January 3rd, 2013
08:18 PM ET
2 years 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. Name lynn

    obama an his family deserve a vacation away from them white house leaders an them republicans an boehner an when obama gets back to the white house everybody hating it because its on like a pot of neck bones

    January 3, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  2. pchelp, Juneau, AK

    Ever since 2008 the Tea Party's slogan has been 'If Obama wants it we oppose it'. The good of the country doesn't seem to enter into it. I'm not sure why-it can't be simply because he's a Democrat. There's never been this much vitriol before.

    January 3, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  3. Zobble

    Pardon Charles Manson and make him head of the CIA.

    January 3, 2013 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  4. Bill Davis

    Got to love that picture how many times has the Big Bird flew back and forth to Hawaii with the other bird following it, any one know who is paying for all these frivolous need;less trips

    Now one is worried about money Obama gave Bidden and Company a raise, enjoy your new taxes..

    January 3, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  5. jimzcarz

    I could use a Government job...I'm vetted & everything, He// I even got "Common Sense"...

    January 3, 2013 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  6. L. Kilmer

    All canidates should be screened for Psychopathy (see: FBI – July 2012 Law Enforcement Bulletin availble online) as part of the vetting process for National Security purposes, prior to being considered for nomination. fMRI's and PCL-R's can detect Psychopathy with extremely high success rates.

    January 3, 2013 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  7. adam in ga

    Kenneth chenalut of american express hes black...he had to pay a 112 million dollar fine for not excepting payments...american express is vbermin...good company for Obama

    January 3, 2013 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  8. Jim

    New leaders for the CIA, Pentagon, and Treasury. We also need them for Congress, the Senate, and the Presidency...

    January 3, 2013 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  9. Bob

    "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"

    So now you are required to be in good standing with gay rights groups to obtain goverment positions? What about being accepted by Christians before obtaining the post as well? It's the same thing...sheesh.

    January 3, 2013 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  10. Rick

    Maybe people like the common Joe should apply for the job.We couldn't do any worse than those politicians that stand around with their hands in their pockets and stuff money in their wallets. Sorry, but I don't have very much respect for our government after this last fiasco. Can we expect more of the same this coming year?

    January 3, 2013 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  11. Bones

    Jerks ...all of them

    January 3, 2013 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  12. Red Pison

    We should flush congress down the toilet and start from scratch too.

    January 3, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  13. Elena Ferrero

    Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel would make a wonderful cabinet member and I am a lefty. Israeli groups if you dont like it MOVE TO ISRAEL!! This is the USA of North America so please mind your own BIZ. No your nation and nothing to do with your zealous religious ideal.

    "a favorite for the Defense Department post whose prospects had appeared to be dimming amid criticism from pro-Israel groups..."

    January 3, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  14. name

    Vacation? What about obligation?

    January 3, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  15. Bill form Long Island

    Help wanted: New leader for the United States.

    January 3, 2013 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  16. Matt in KY

    Fuel and fodder for the looming debt ceiling warfare. Shame that these things will occur at the same time; partisan nonsense guaranteed and the country loses in the end. Hagel, who by all means is the best person for the job, will get crunched. I hope he get the position. Kerry, should also be good in the roll of SoS. Interesting, like a chessboard of misery.

    January 3, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  17. me

    on vacation yet AGAIN Barry? Who is footing the bill for this? i guess that's why the taxes are going up to pay for all the undeserved vacations this joker takes

    January 3, 2013 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  18. Alicia

    Yeah, wanted: high level government positions....must be willing to lie to the general public and take orders from offshore bankers. Must be proficient at acting / role playing and getting paid handsomely for being deceptive.

    I'm confident they'll fill those.

    January 3, 2013 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  19. Johnny DC

    Queue puff piece about cabinet positions only 24 hours after a disastrous 40:1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts.

    January 3, 2013 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  20. FiniteWorld

    They are going to have their hands full that's for sure.

    January 3, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  21. My sources say otherwise

    Ironic that they suggest someone from a company whose primary business is issuing debt (American Express) to be the Treasury Secretary? You can't make this stuff up, although it is all coming from unnamed "sources", so maybe it is.

    January 3, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  22. listened

    "And even though President Barack Obama remains on vacation all week in Hawaii, 5,000 miles away from Washington, "

    Im starting to get dizzy 8/

    January 3, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  23. Gonzo

    You smugly make fun of the opposition, and one day they will be your worst nightmare. That's politics. That's the lesson Reagan and Clinton already knew when they got to Washington. But then again, they had been executives of major states, unlike the community organizer in the White House.

    January 3, 2013 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  24. 9-9-9

    Remember when Fox news interviewed Herman Cain and he said he would want to be the Secretary of Defense in a Romney cabinet? The anchor smirked, then regained their composure.

    January 3, 2013 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  25. Hillcrester

    The GOP will do everything it can to block anyone–ironically, except Kerry, whom the GOP swift-boated from the Presidency–the President nominates for anything.

    January 3, 2013 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
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