Obama’s Cabinet Reshuffle and Its Implications for His Second Term

What are the implications of Obama’s Cabinet reshuffle? Do his nominations tell us anything about his agenda or his priorities?

Janet Martin: In spite of the President’s claims to the contrary, his Cabinet reshuffle does merit scrutiny. The order in which Cabinet selections are announced has both substantive and symbolic importance, and each of his predecessors, at least since President Carter, has faced the same scrutiny. By announcing the appointment of Jack Lew as Secretary of the Treasury, it is clear the economy will continue to be a focal point of the administration. Lew also brings experience as the head of the Office of Management and Budget, both in the Clinton administration and the Obama administration. He has worked with Departments in going over line-by-line budget requests, and has also worked with Congress in getting the President’s budget approved. His experience in working with former Speaker Tip O’Neill who negotiated budget agreements with President Reagan (when Reagan had a Republican Senate, and faced a Democratic House) can also be most instructive for the administration in working with Congress. Senator Chuck Hagel’s appointment as Secretary of Defense reflects the scrutiny needed in cutting back on Defense programs as the country ends a decade of war. Congress will need to pass the legislation to make the cuts in Defense. However, the bipartisan support the President might have been seeking with the appointment of another Republican to head the Department of Defense, appears to be lacking.

Replacing Hillary Clinton with Senator John Kerry, a long-time member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will certainly result in a change in emphasis in the Department of State. Since Madeleine Albright served as Secretary of State in Bill Clinton’s second term, either a woman and/or an African American have headed the Department. Hillary Clinton changed the focus of the Department. Under Clinton’s direction, the Department has worked on issues around the globe that embrace a strong commitment to ensuring fulfillment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all human beings. Whether this will be a focus of Kerry is unknown. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to recommend many international agreements ensuring basic human rights to the full Senate for ratification.

President Obama has promised that his entire cabinet will reflect the diversity of the country. He had the opportunity to appoint a woman for the first time to head the Department of Defense, which would be important substantively. Women in combat has been an issue waiting resolution; rape has been a subject facing the leadership in the Defense Department, without an adequate response.

Andrew Rudalevige:I’m inclined to say not much. All presidents want big symbolic celebrities in their Cabinet when they come into office, and over time, they decide whom they trust and what they really want to do, and they tend to move toward more toward lower-profile, managerial kinds of people.

Hagel has stirred up quite a bit of controversy, but he’s someone Obama feels in tune with in regards to his skepticism about the use of American force in certain cases. The Defense Department, even before the cuts threatened by the “fiscal cliff,” was already in line to be cut back, given its huge expansion in the 2000s. There’s a lot there to be pruned back, but how it is done is crucial – so it’s helpful to have somebody who has a pedigree in defense questions. Obama probably hoped he would get some bipartisan credit for this; it doesn’t look like he’s going to get much.

Kerry is a “safe pair of hands,” as the British say. It’s not a very exciting choice, but it’s someone who has a lot of foreign policy experience, and with whom Obama’s had a relationship since 2004. He’s somebody who will be a safe spokesman for the administration, if not as high a profile appointment as Hillary Clinton.

The Jack Lew appointment probably does indicate a shift away from being wrapped up in making sure the Wall Street and banking sides of the economy are back up and. JP Morgan just announced massive profits: I think Obama may feel that they’re okay. Lew’s background is in fiscal policy: two stints at the Office of Management and Budget, plus he worked for Tip O’Neill back in the ‘80s during the Reagan budget debates; he’s hugely well-versed in those issues. A lot of this will be about shaping a more constrained domestic spending agenda.