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What Will the New Obama Cabinet Look Like?

Wednesday, 5 Dec 2012 | 2:11 PM ET
T.J. Kirkpatrick | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Obama is likely to replace a large portion of his Cabinet for his second term, but will almost definitely replace all of the Big Three. At the State Department, Secretary Hillary Clinton has clearly signaled her intent to move on. At Treasury, Secretary Tim Geithner has done the same. And at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he'd prefer to return home to California.

For each vacancy, Obama will face a choice between a conventional fellow Democrat with whom he's personally comfortable, or a move toward political or ideological diversity that Republicans might prefer. Here's a look at three sets of options:

State

By most indications, the clear favorite to succeed Clinton is United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, a veteran foreign policy hand who backed Obama's presidential campaign earlier than most. But she faces Republican resistance over her performance following the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya. A fallback choice if the president chooses to avoid a confirmation fight is Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee. But here's a sleeper option if the presidential opts for bipartisan outreach: outgoing Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a former Foreign Relations Chair and one-time Obama ally in the Senate.

Treasury

The front-runner to replace Geithner is the current White House chief of staff Jack Lew. As a onetime Democratic leadership aide in the House, the genial, low-key Mr. Lew is well-suited for the political bargaining needed to reach consensus on Capitol Hill over tax, spending and deficit issues. Of course, that would compel Obama to revamp his White House staff as well as his Treasury Department. There's a bracing alternative available if Obama shies away from that task: former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, who would please Republicans because he's more economically conservative than most leaders of his party.

Defense

Should he not be selected to head the State Department, Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, is considered a strong prospect to head the Defense Department at a time when the Pentagon budget is facing intense scrutiny and deep potential cuts. A more welcome prospect for Republicans would be retiring Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, whose hawkish views have alienated many within his own party – notwithstanding his vice-presidential candidacy on the 2000 Democratic ticket with Al Gore.

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