January 3rd, 2013
08:18 PM ET
1 year ago

Big cabinet decisions loom as Obama vacations

Honolulu, Hawaii (CNN) - As a new Congress takes over on Capitol Hill, all eyes are turning to what will certainly be a vastly different Obama Cabinet in the coming weeks.

High-level vacancies in the administration are expected to include secretary of state, secretary of defense and treasury secretary. A permanent CIA director also must be chosen.

And even though President Barack Obama remains on vacation all week in Hawaii, 5,000 miles away from Washington, speculation is swirling over whom Obama will pick for the top spots and when they will be announced.

Although Obama announced late last month that Sen. John Kerry is his pick to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, a senior administration official tells CNN no final decisions have been made regarding the other key positions.

CNN has learned that former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a favorite for the Defense Department post whose prospects had appeared to be dimming amid criticism from pro-Israel groups and gay organizations over past comments, is still in the running for secretary of defense.

Another source tells CNN's Gloria Borger that the president "hasn't signed off yet" on Hagel replacing outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and is "mulling over this and other appointments" while in Hawaii this week.

The general expectation, this source added, is that the president will likely announce the Defense post, as well as other Cabinet appointments, as early as next week.

Hagel has some big backers.

"I understand his nomination is back on the table, and I believe very strongly he should be defense secretary," former Democratic Sen. Max Cleland told CNN.

Meanwhile, the president himself did not rule Hagel out for the top Defense post in a recent interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"My No. 1 criteria will be who's going to do the best job in helping to secure America," the president said, adding that nothing he had seen specifically ruled Hagel out.
Still, Hagel supporters are concerned about the process of names being floated and opening possible contenders up to harsh scrutiny before they are formally named.

"Anyone with any record of involvement in controversial issues will always mobilize against a would-be nominee a whole phalanx of accusations and sometimes distortions," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter.

Hagel is not the only name in the mix for the powerful post. Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, remains a leading candidate. A source also tells Borger that Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter "still has his supporters."

Meanwhile, at the Treasury Department, where Secretary Timothy Geithner plans to leave sometime around the inauguration, at least one person floated – American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault - has no plans to leave that company, a spokesman confirmed to CNN.

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew is considered to be a frontrunner for the job.

At the CIA, Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan and Acting CIA Director Michael Morrell remain on the short list to replace retired Gen. David Petraeus, according to a source.

History shows that most presidents get the nominees they want, but in this political environment, there's no guarantee.

"It used to just be Supreme Court justices who inspired these sorts of partisan free-for-alls; now it's bleeding into a president's cabinet picks as well," said Reid Wilson of the National Journal.

– CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger contributed to this report

soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. johnk

    How much did it cost to fly AF 1 to Hawaii 2 times and back to Washington. Plus the SS to cover for the President in Hawaii? And you want to talk about spending? PLEASE!

    January 3, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  2. joe mauro

    how about a leader period.

    January 3, 2013 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  3. Jeb

    The Republicans will simply go back to blocking every nominee the President puts forward for all of these positions. Not because they are unqualified but because all they know how to do is obstruct.

    January 3, 2013 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  4. Jim

    Our government has become a joke. The partisan divide has put the country into a complete state of disfunction. The hate and bile being spewed, along with the lies, by the 2 extremes has just about brought the country to it's knees. You need look no further than the "threat" Amy Kremer issued to Republicans who supported the fiscal cliff deal She simply doesn't get it, and this is what happens when you get under-educated, under-prepared people in the governmental bodies. The Tea Party has finished putting the nail in civlized discourse which was originally begun decades ago. But we fail to learn from our mistakes.

    January 3, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  5. Mike Davis

    Good move if you're gutting the Defense department is to stick a GOPer in there to ally criticism.

    January 3, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  6. Carl

    They forgot to advertise for a Travel Czar for the Obamas.

    January 3, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  7. Kevin Park

    Additional note for the CIA director: Man or woman who does not commit affair, preferred

    January 3, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  8. shawn

    Best of luck to you Mr. President.

    Your doing a great job!

    January 3, 2013 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  9. larry banal

    "bleeding into cabinet picks" and federal judges and if obama had to pick a dog walker for Bo then that would be an issue too

    January 3, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  10. causinascene

    Maybe I should forward my resume..I'm looking for work...wonder what the pay is?

    January 3, 2013 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  11. manila

    no leaders need apply...

    January 3, 2013 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  12. dumpsterdivin

    The only reason the cabinet appointments are a difficulty is because the GOP is STILL using any tool they can to make the POTUS' job hard. Its still the same old crap...

    January 3, 2013 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  13. john q citizen

    we also need someone new for the consumer product safety commission as the current administrator, Inez Tennebaum is going to let 24 million Whirlpool dishwashers burn our homes down. She has known about these defective dishwashers for years and done nothing.

    January 3, 2013 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  14. John Holmes

    Rats jump off a sinking ship, not on to one.

    January 3, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  15. hawaiirules

    Gosh, It will be hard to find people as corrupt and incompetant as he had in his first term.

    January 3, 2013 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  16. Student

    And while you're at it, how about abolishing the corrupt congress.

    January 3, 2013 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    I would love to have the chance to have that job

    January 3, 2013 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  18. chris

    Jack Lew? What about Jamie Dimon? Buffett endorsed the guy.

    January 3, 2013 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  19. ahairynavel

    Where can i apply ?

    January 3, 2013 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  20. drslim

    I nominate Ron Paul for the Treasury and Jesse Ventura for the CIA and Jon Stewart for Sec of State. Get rid of every Democrat and Republican and give the country back to the people.....

    January 3, 2013 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  21. blake

    Help wanted, new leaders needed for: president, VP, attorney general, senate majority leader, house minority leader. Far left dividers and liars need not apply.

    January 3, 2013 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  22. Bugs Weta

    Let's all pray the Obama Cabinet is vastly different from the last 4 incredibly disappointing years.

    January 3, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  23. Don

    Abandon ship

    January 3, 2013 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  24. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It will prove interesting to see who are the replacements. I think that Kerry could do well. The question is about the new appointments and how quickly they can get through the Senate.

    January 3, 2013 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  25. UnFred

    How about getting rid of Diane Benedict Frankenstein? Or just letting California secede to North Korea?

    January 3, 2013 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
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