Obama’s Second-Term Cabinet Cast Leaving Women in WaitingHans Nichols
President Barack Obama’s second-term Cabinet picks so far resemble his golf foursomes more than the coalition of voters who gave him four more years.
By selecting three white males to fill his highest-profile Cabinet vacancies -- at Treasury, State and Defense -- Obama has invited criticism that the nation’s first black president isn’t making diversity a priority for his administration.
“After women made a decisive statement this election and sent President Obama back to the White House, it is troubling that he has responded by so far filling his empty Cabinet positions with men,” said Nita Chaudhary, president of UltraViolet, an organization that advocates for gender equality.
“We deserve to be represented in the highest offices in our country,” Chaudhary said. “And he should know women are watching closely to see if he will.”
Female voters, 53 percent of the electorate, were a decisive factor in the presidential race. Fifty-five percent of women cast ballots for Obama versus 44 percent who voted for Republican Mitt Romney, exit polls showed. The only year the spread was higher was in 1996, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The gender split was highlighted during the election campaign when Romney sparked ridicule after saying in the second debate that he ordered up “binders full of women” to staff his cabinet when he was governor of Massachusetts.
While some women’s groups raised complaints during Obama’s first term, he has come under renewed criticism as he fills out his second-term Cabinet and White House staff, a process not yet finished. Accusations that the White House is dominated by men is based, in part, on the numbers.
To be sure, Obama isn’t finished reshaping his administration. Obama is considering Xerox Corp. Chief Executive Officer Ursula Burns to head the Commerce Department, and Christine Gregoire, who will end her term as governor of Washington state later this month, has expressed interest in the Environmental Protection Agency job, according to a person familiar with the matter.
About half of the almost 500 members of the White House staff are women, according to a list of employees submitted in a 2011 report to Congress. Among the 21 employees listed in the report as making the top salary of $172,200 a year, a group that includes press secretary Jay Carney and senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, seven were women.
The gender split extends to recreation. Obama has played 132 rounds of golf while in office, according to a tally kept by CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. The president has included women just twice.
The Cabinet draws the greatest attention.
“The president was rightly proud in celebrating his record of diversity in his first Cabinet,” Chaudhary said. “But it’s a record that he’s almost-single handedly undoing.”
Among the 23 Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions, eight were held by women at the end of Obama’s first term. One of them, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is being replaced by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Yesterday, Obama selected White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to be the next Treasury secretary, and earlier this week he named former Senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, both set to replace men.
“I think it would be useful to wait and make judgments about this issue after the president has made the totality of appointments that he will make in the transition to a second term,” Carney said Jan. 9.
“Women are well represented in the president’s senior staff here,” he said, citing the White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, and two deputy chiefs of staff.
In addition to Clinton at State, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson have announced their resignations. Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki all plan to remain for at least part of the next term.
The last time Obama faced pressure to select a woman for a principal role in the White House, he went so far as to consider a female economist that many of his staff feared had Republican sympathies.
In the summer of 2011, criticism from women -- both inside and outside the White House -- prompted Obama to consider Carmen Reinhart, then a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, to replace Austan Goolsbee as Council of Economic Advisers chairman, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Eventually, Reinhart’s political leanings convinced the president that she was not the right choice as his chief economist during an election year, and he settled on another woman, Rebecca Blank, then-deputy commerce secretary, for the role, said the people, who requested anonymity.
After offering her the job, he then withdrew it when some advisers discovered old academic papers by Blank in which she discussed wealth redistribution, said the people. A spokesman for Blank declined to comment on the retracted offer.
Eventually, Obama went with the remaining male candidate on his list, and gave the job to Princeton University economics professor Alan Krueger, ensuring that the White House’s economic team remained all male.
It’s not just Obama’s allies who’ve taken notice.
“I’m pretty sure most Democrats didn’t envision the faces of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel when they closed their eyes and dreamed about hope and change,” said Nicolle Wallace, who was communications director for former President George W. Bush.
“If Obama had tried as hard to find a woman to add to his Cabinet as he worked to find a Republican, he might have done something historic and interesting,” she said. “Instead, it’s the same old tired, recycled guys doing the same old jobs.”