President Barack Obama may announce his nominees for secretaries of state and defense and head of the CIA in the coming weeks, according to an administration official.
Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, is among Obama’s top candidates to head the Pentagon, replacing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Other contenders are Michele Flournoy, former defense undersecretary for policy, Ashton Carter, deputy defense secretary, and Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the official said.
Obama is also considering Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the nation’s top diplomat, along with Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the official said.
The nominations would be among the first that Obama makes as he shuffles his Cabinet for a second term. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, the only remaining member of Obama’s original economic team, has said he intends to leave. The Commerce Department is headed by an acting secretary, Rebecca Blank, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has said he doesn’t plan to stay through another four-year term.
The possibility that Obama may act in December was reported earlier yesterday by the Associated Press.
The Cabinet nominations are subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Hagel, who retired from the Senate in 2009 after 12 years in office, would give the president a bipartisan cast for his Cabinet. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also is a Republican former lawmaker.
With Clinton having announced her intention to leave office, Rice has been Obama’s favored candidate to take over.
Rice has come under fire from Republican lawmakers, who are threatening to block any nomination over comments she made in the days following the deadly Sept. 11 attack at a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
In televised interviews Rice discussed the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four American officials in the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, saying a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim video was “hijacked” by militants.
The attack on the consulate is the subject of investigation by congressional committees, and Rice has met with some of her critics in the Senate.
Obama has defended Rice from criticism by Republican senators, including John McCain or Arizona. At a Nov. 14 news conference, the president said his UN envoy had done “exemplary work” and that the efforts by some senators “to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.” On Nov. 28, Obama praised her as “extraordinary” in remarks to reporters.
Should Obama nominate Kerry to be the nation’s top diplomat, Democrats risk losing one of the two Senate seats they picked up in the November elections and make newly elected Elizabeth Warren the state’s senior senator.
To lead the Central Intelligence Agency, Obama is considering Deputy Director Michael Morell, who took over as acting director when David H. Petraeus resigned last month following the revelation of an extramarital affair, the official said.
The other candidates for the CIA job include Hagel, Michael Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, the official said.