Obama lags Bush, Clinton in nominating second-term Cabinet

President Obama hasn’t nominated anyone to his second-term Cabinet more than a month after his reelection, putting him well behind the pace set by Presidents Clinton and Bush.

Clinton had nominated new secretaries of State and Defense by Dec. 5, while Bush had nominated seven new Cabinet members by Dec. 10, including an attorney general and secretary of State.

ADVERTISEMENT
White House officials say Obama is still mulling whom to appoint to certain Cabinet positions. Asked about the delay in nominations on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “The president has made no decisions, and I have no personnel announcements to make.”

Carney also sought to pour cold water on the idea that the fiscal talks with Republicans are delaying Obama’s efforts to assemble his second-term team. 

“Since … I can’t give you a date for when we’re going to resolve the fiscal-cliff challenge, I wouldn’t say that any other decisions or announcements are dependent on that,” he said.

Senior administration officials and others familiar with the process say the fiscal debate and Cabinet moves are proceeding independently on “parallel tracks,” as one official put it.

White House officials add that Obama is expected to announce some of the major nominees for his second-term Cabinet before he leaves for Hawaii, where he hopes to spend the Christmas holiday. Others might come in the weeks following the holiday break.

“There’s no value in announcing some of these people now,” said one former administration official. “There’s no use in putting people out there if Congress is preoccupied anyway and if they’re just going to be trashed over the holiday recess.”

While the White House contends that the fiscal-cliff negotiations have little to do with the slowdown of the nomination process, a few of the key Cabinet members are tied to the talks.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the last member of the president’s original economic team, has expressed his eagerness to move on from the role in a second term. But Carney told reporters last month that the Treasury secretary will stay on through the inauguration.

“Secretary Geithner has indicated he’ll stay on through inauguration and he will be a key participant in the negotiations around the so-called fiscal-cliff issue,” Carney said. “The president very much appreciates that.”

Likewise, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is currently dealing with sequestration as it relates to the fiscal cliff, will stay on for at least the coming weeks, before hoping to “get back to California,” where he resides, as he told reporters last month.

But Panetta told reporters that “right now my goal is to basically meet my responsibilities in terms of dealing with those issues, and that’s the most important focus I have right now.”

Perhaps the most anticipated nomination involves Obama’s selection for secretary of State as the clock winds down on Hillary Clinton’s time in Foggy Bottom. If Obama chooses to tap United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice for the post, as some predict, her confirmation hearing could turn ugly as senators grill her about the statements she made in a series of television interviews on the attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died.

Nominating Rice for the Cabinet position in the middle of the delicate fiscal negotiations could take the focus away from the tax-and-spending debate. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who accused Rice of giving a false account of the terrorist attack, said this week that he would like to serve on the Foreign Relations Committee.

If he does end up serving on the committee, he could throw some fastballs at Rice and make her confirmation process bumpy, something White House officials wouldn’t want to deal with, given the leverage on their side on the heels of Obama’s reelection.

But White House aides maintain that there have been plenty of situations where Obama has demonstrated he can “walk and chew gum at the same time,” and the fiscal cliff together with the second-term nominations is one of them. 

“The president’s working on a number of issues, including resolving the fiscal cliff, working with the Speaker of the House and other congressional leaders, also engaging with business leaders and labor leaders and others on the important issue,” Carney explained. “And he’s working — he’s certainly engaged in discussions about some of the personnel decisions that we all know he will be making.”