Washington, DC — President Barack Obama's tentative plans for reshuffling his deck of aides and Cabinet members accelerated this week when word reached the White House of an FBI investigation that brought to the surface CIA Director David Petraeus’ infidelity.
The former general’s swift exit provided an immediate reminder of the task facing the administration as it looks to planning out the next for years — ensuring the orderly exit of long-serving, but tired, aides and bringing in fresh blood.
Obama’s Cabinet, which has been unusually stable for the past four years, will be at the center of the government-wide change, with three of the four top appointees already looking for the door in the coming months, while numerous heads of smaller agencies are also expected to begin exiting.
Attorney General Eric Holder hinted at an exit on Thursday, according to Reuters, telling University of Baltimore law students that he hadn’t discussed his future with either the president or his family.
"That's something that I'm in the process now of trying to determine," he said.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick spent Friday night dinner at the White House with the goal of personally lobbying the president for the attorney general post. Patrick's ambition for the job dates back to 2008, when he was passed over for the job, and he’s never hid it since. Democrats in his home state say he’s increasingly been talking to local officials about leaving for Washington.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has thus far remained silent on the specific timing of her departure from the administration, but she was the first Cabinet secretary to meet with Obama and Biden after their victory on Tuesday. The top two contenders to replace her are Sen. John Kerry and UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice’s role in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack in September — stating repeatedly that a video was to blame — is seen as a major obstacle.
“She’s probably not confirmable after that,” said one Capitol Hill Democrat.
However, Democrats, particularly in the Senate, are leery of letting Kerry leave Capitol Hill unless the state party has an orderly succession in place. But that’s easier said than done — ironically because of Kerry himself.
With the Massachusetts Democrat having made a strong run for president in 2004, state Democrats changed the law for replacing retiring members, stripping then-Gov. Mitt Romney of his ability to appoint new members and putting in a place a special election process. Kerry obviously never needed a replacement, and perhaps fittingly, following the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, the new law resulted in the state electing Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican.
And with Brown on his way out thanks to Elizabeth Warren, he is considered an odds-on favorite to take a special election against the current crop of Democratic contenders. According to Republicans close to the campaign, former Brown aides have been told to “keep the gunpowder dry” in case Kerry makes the move.
Democratic operatives Thursday said the state could simply change its rules back, since they control the legislature and governor’s office, which would allow Patrick to appoint a candidate who could take the next several years to build up a statewide name ID to win their first election.
The other option would be for Patrick to step down as governor and run for the Senate himself, something that is extremely attractive to party elders, since he would bring significant celebrity wattage to the chamber and help further cement in the public mind the demographic differences between Republicans and Democrats.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has been edging for the exits for more than a year, being convinced by Obama to stay on in his post until the end of the first term after then–chief of staff Bill Daley’s efforts to reach out to business failed. But he won’t be leaving immediately.
“Secretary Geithner has indicated that he'll stay on through Inauguration, and he will be obviously a key participant in the negotiations around the so-called fiscal cliff issues,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday.
When he does — likely as soon as a spending and tax compromise is reached — White House chief of staff Jack Lew is seen as the inside choice for the post. Lew, more wonk than manager, previously headed the Office of Management and Budget.
“It’s almost a done deal,” said one Democrat close to the administration.
Geithner’s eventual exit could also mean a return to public life for former Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Obama and Daschle are very close — indeed much of his staff in his first term and while in the Senate had worked for the South Dakota Democrat.
Although Republicans torpedoed Obama’s bid to install Daschle at the Department of Health and Human Services in 2009, the White House Chief of Staff position does not require confirmation.
Democratic and Republican aides said Daschle would be a solid pick, since his long-standing relationships with members of both parties and intimate understanding of Capitol Hill would go a long way toward thawing the icy relationship Obama’s administration has had with lawmakers during his first term.