Winners and Losers of Obama's First Term Cabinet

Clinton's stock is up, Holder's is down.

Attorney General Eric Holder, left, lashes out at a reporter who asked about calls for his resignation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, arrives in Thailand.
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Presidents are often defined in part by the record built by their cabinet members, those hand-selected to carry out the presidential vision but who may also potentially tarnish legacies with impropriety. As President Barack Obama heads into his second term and his cabinet is reshuffled, here's a look at the winners and losers of his first term picks.


Hillary Clinton - State

There's little doubt Clinton made her mark both within the State Department and the outside world. Her former-first lady star power helped mend relationships with foreign countries that may have been jilted by President George W. Bush's foreign policy actions, and her deep policy knowledge helped her hit the ground running. From championing women's rights and humanitarian causes to coping with the Arab Spring, Clinton is leaving public service (for now) with her highest approval rating ever. Not even the deadly Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead has tainted her legacy.

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Arne Duncan - Education

Duncan's low-key cabinet presence bodes well for the work he's lead in enabling states to overhaul their public schools, from enacting teacher pay-for-performance rules to authorizing charter schools, Duncan has successfully navigated potential landmines with teacher's unions and local control issues by using the carrot of funding awarded through Race To the Top, as opposed to the stick of Bush's No Child Left Behind. His strong relationship with the president, including serving as a regular on the basketball court, means his role will only grow in the future.

Leon Panetta - Defense

Panetta, a longtime political hand who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden as director of the CIA before taking over Defense in 2011. He's helped ease the transfer of power and troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as coped with the specter of deep Defense spending cuts. Panetta was unanimously confirmed by the Senate for the post and is set to leave his office with bipartisan praise.


Steven Chu - Energy

A Nobel prize-winning physicist, Chu was tasked by Obama with revolutionizing the Energy Department from one cozy with the oil and gas industry to one promoting energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar. But Chu's legacy instead became the misstep of Solyndra, a solar panel making company that received more than $500 million in loan guarantees through the federal stimulus package before going bankrupt. Chu also has come under fire from conservatives for using money to subsidize renewable energy projects.

Eric Holder, Jr. - Justice

Holder quickly became another top conservative target for his department's role in a program known as Fast and Furious, where federal agents sold guns to drug smugglers in hopes of catching them. But when a federal agent was killed with one of the guns, many questioned the policy and House Republicans have held several hearings looking into Holder's culpability. Liberals have also questioned Holder's policies on prosecuting terrorist detainees and the fate of those held without trial in Guantanamo.

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Lisa Jackson - Environmental Protection Agency

No Democrat was every going to please conservatives at the head of the EPA, but particularly during a devastating economy. Jackson's legacy has been made out by the GOP as a job-killing, regulation machine. She was also disappointed herself that she wasn't able to do more on the climate change front. Jackson, who is leaving the administration, likely feels her big chance was squandered.

Hero or Zero?

Tim Geithner - Treasury

In saying goodbye to Geithner at Treasury, Obama praised him for helping guide the country through the worst financial crisis since the Depression, but it's hard to know how history will judge Geithner's performance. Particularly as fiscal uncertainty and prolonged unemployment continues to plague the United States more than four years after the economic meltdown. Perhaps Geithner did avert worse calamity and set America up for an epic comeback - but we have yet to see.