The Musical Chairs in Obama's Second-Term Cabinet

The president's cabinet selections will set the tone for his next term.

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President Obama's cabinet selections for a second term will say a lot about his intended path over the next four years, such as whether he will take a liberal or a centrist approach, and whether he will continue to prize diversity in his inner circle.

At least three cabinet officers are expected to resign over the next few months: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. This would set off a game of musical chairs.

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Administration sources say the president might name White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew to succeed Geithner, creating an opening for the chief of staff slot. Among those mentioned for the staff job are Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden; Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, deputy chief of staff. DeParle, Klain, and McDonough are considered practical managers, not zealous ideologues. If named, DeParle would be the first woman to serve as White House chief of staff.

At State, Obama is considering United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice as the nation's top diplomat, which would continue a recent pattern of having a woman hold that job, such as Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and Madeleine Albright. But Rice could have trouble winning confirmation in the Senate because of her controversial initial explanation of a lethal attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in September, so Obama could opt for a safer choice at State. That could be Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

If Panetta leaves, possible successors at Defense include Michele Flournoy, former under secretary for defense. She would be the first woman to hold that job. Or Obama could select Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Democratic sources say.

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These sources add that Obama also could name the first openly gay cabinet member, and he is eager to insure diversity by naming more Hispanics and African Americans to his corps of senior advisers.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Facebook and Twitter.