Every president fortunate enough to survive re-election has seen significant changes in his cabinet and other chief advisors. In the second term of Barack Obama, what is significant is not who is leaving his administration, but who is staying.
Despite clear records of missteps, unachieved goals, and highly questionable actions, many of the top positions in the president's cabinet will remain unchanged.
Shortly after the start of Mr. Obama’s first term, there was significant question as to whether Attorney General Eric Holder would last long in his vital position. Even before taking office, his role as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton pardon of Democrat contributor and fugitive Marc Rich raised eyebrows.
Mr. Holder’s failure to prosecute the Philadelphia voter intimidation case of 2008, the year of Obama’s first run for the presidency, provided a highly questionable start to his tenure as Attorney General. The case involved members of the New Black Panther Party intimidating white voters. Bartie Bull, a former civil rights lawyer who had served as a poll watcher where the incident occurred, submitted an affidavit stating that it was the worst case of voter intimidation he had ever seen. J. Christian Adams, trial attorney for the voting rights section of the Justice Department, eventually resigned over the Justice Department’s refusal to take appropriate steps to address the matter.
Beyond voter fraud, the deadly “Fast and Furious” scandal, which put weapons in the hands of foreign drug lords and were used in the murder of Americans, has been laid at the hands of Mr. Holder’s department. Few if any cabinet secretaries have survived two such severe disasters.
Also staying on is Kathryn Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services. Secretary Sebelius has presided over the implementation of the President’s signature legislative piece, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is turning out to be extremely problematic. Costs for health insurance have skyrocketed, older Americans are concerned that the will have low priority for treatment, and physicians are deeply troubled by the burden of the bureaucracy imposed on them. Religious institutions have objected to being forced to engage in types of coverage which offend their beliefs.
Sebelius also was involved in an incident where, during an official speech in her capacity as Secretary, she unlawfully engaged in partisan politics.
James Clapper is staying on as Director of National Intelligence, a rather surprising turn of events considering his dismal failure in the Benghazi incident. The entire Administration response to the killing of an American ambassador, including both the failure to timely react to the assault and the incorrect analysis and statements given by the Administration to the American people, the United Nations, and the families of those killed would normally have been sufficient to end the careers of anyone in his position.
Janet Napolitano, the chief of Homeland Security, is also a surprising returnee. In the first Obama term, she called returning U.S. servicemen and women a threat to national security, and described the Canadian border as more of a threat than its Mexican counterpart. Millions of airline passengers remain infuriated at the numerous missteps the TSA agency, under her leadership, has engaged in.
In terms of new appointees, the nomination of Chuck Hagel to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Panetta is a move that has raised eyebrows both in the US and abroad. Hagel shares President Obama’s goal of slashing the defense budget, his opposition to the use of American military force abroad, and his pacifism in the face of Iran’s nuclear threat. Hagel’s nomination, along with the appointment of John Brennan to head the CIA, signifies a growing alienation from traditional U.S. ally Israel, as both men have taken unabashedly tough stances against that nation’s interests.
Also facing significant scrutiny is the nomination of John Kerry to serve as Secretary of State. Kerry’s ardent statements against U.S. military personnel will present a flashpoint to opponents during the confirmation process.
While both the returnees and the new appointments are highly controversial, the president’s friendly relations with major media outlets may serve to overcome the expected outcry.