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How The New President Might Rebuild Top Cabinets


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

We're going to spend a few minutes now discussing possibilities. Regardless of who wins today's presidential contest, there are reasonable expectations that there will be new faces on the horizon. We've asked NPR reporters who cover some of the key Cabinet-level positions in the U.S. government to tell us about some of the names on that horizon. Let's start with NPR's State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen. Good to have you with us, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Nice to be here, Lynn.

NEARY: So, Michele, if President Obama is re-elected, Hillary Clinton has made it clear that she will not stay on as secretary of state. And a lot of people have thought that the current U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, might get that job, but that's seeming less likely now, isn't it?

KELEMEN: She's really been hammered by Republicans for the way she described the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. Many accused her of misleading the public about that. So getting confirmed is going to be a problem for her.

Senator John Kerry is also vying to become secretary of state, though that may not make sense politically to open up a Senate seat in Massachusetts at this point. There's also some speculation that President Obama could go for a safer, possibly temporary choice, just tapping the current Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

NEARY: And what are some of the names on the short list for Mitt Romney?

KELEMEN: It's a difficult one to predict since Governor Romney's team of foreign policy advisers are a diverse bunch. But one possibility is former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who most recently ran the World Bank. He is sort of a moderate guy. But when he joined the Romney campaign, neoconservatives were up in arms about it. You hear neoconservative pundits now throwing out other names from former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to Senator Joe Lieberman.

NEARY: Thanks very much, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

NEARY: Michele Kelemen is NPR State Department correspondent. Tom Bowman covers the Pentagon for us. Tom, Leon Panetta, the current secretary of defense, really hasn't said anything about his future. But there's a lot of talk that he would opt out of that job if President Obama wins a second term, right?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: That's right, Lynn. The expectation is he would leave. He spends every weekend now at his home in Monterey, California. So the sense is, should President Obama be re-elected, that Defense Secretary Panetta will leave. And as far as who would replace Panetta, the name you hear most often is Michele Flournoy. She is a top policy official in the Pentagon, and she has worked on such issues as shifting a greater focus on Asia. And she would be the first woman secretary of defense.

Another name you keep hearing is the Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. He's focused on everything from terrorism to buying weapons and technology. He served in the Clinton administration. He's a one-time Harvard professor, and the sense is that if he doesn't get it, he may stay on as deputy secretary of defense under Michele Flournoy.

NEARY: And if Mitt Romney wins?

BOWMAN: The name you keep hearing is Jim Talent. He's a former Missouri senator and House member, served in the Armed Services Committee. His big issue is military readiness, making sure that troops are trained enough and have the right equipment. He's been very critical of the cutbacks in the Obama administration and the Pentagon. And, of course, Governor Romney has talked about building up the Navy, and that comes from another official in this campaign, John Lehman, who could be a defense secretary.

He was a Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, and he keeps pointing out that under Reagan, there were 594 ships in the Navy. Now, there are 287 ships. He would like to build a lot more.

NEARY: Thanks very much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Lynn.

NEARY: Tom Bowman is NPR's defense correspondent. And now on to the Justice Department. Carrie Johnson covers the Justice Department for NPR, and she joins us now. Good to have you with us.


NEARY: So what are you hearing, Carrie, about who Mitt Romney might name as head of the Justice Department if he is elected?

JOHNSON: There are a number of really well-qualified Republicans, people who have served in the Justice Department in the Bush administration, and some have even served as federal judges, starting out with Mark Filip. He's a former deputy attorney general, the number two justice in the George W. Bush years. He's also a former judge out of Chicago now in private law practice. There's Mike Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary in the Bush administration, also a former federal judge. And then, a little bit out of the box, Lynn, retiring Arizona Senator John Kyl, who should not have a problem being confirmed by the Senate even if it remains in Democratic hands because he's pretty well-liked on the Hill.

NEARY: Now, if President Obama is re-elected, Eric Holder has not indicated whether he intends to leave his position. So if the president does remain in office, what are you hearing about Eric Holder's future there?

JOHNSON: Eric Holder has changed his mind a little bit about when and whether he wants to go. He seems to be indicating at this point he doesn't want to stay much more than six months or a year into the new term if Obama is re-elected. So there are a number of other Democrats out there, including Janet Napolitano, the current Homeland Security secretary, who has a long background in law enforcement. Also Deval Patrick, a former Justice Department official in the Clinton years, currently the Democratic governor of Massachusetts who had a very highly regarded speech at the Democratic National Convention this year.

I'm also hearing the president is interested in looking elsewhere, out West and in New York. So out West, Kamala Harris, the current attorney general for the state of California, Catherine Cortez Masto, who's the current attorney general for the state of Nevada, and then moving into New York, Preet Bharara, who's the current U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.

NEARY: Thanks very much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: Carrie Johnson is NPR's justice correspondent. And finally, Treasury secretary, arguably the most important Cabinet post in the past four years. NPR economics correspondent John Ydstie joins us to talk about who might be next in that job. Good to have you with us, John.


NEARY: So if Mitt Romney were to win the election, who do you think he might appoint to that post?

YDSTIE: Well, the name that comes up most often is Glenn Hubbard. He's a dean at the Columbia School of Business at Columbia University, and he's been Romney's chief economic adviser during the campaign. He chaired the Council of Economic Advisors under the most recent President Bush and was a Treasury official during the early 1990s under the first President Bush. He's the main author of Governor Romney's tax proposal, and so I think tax reform would probably be a big focus if he were chosen. A second possibility, Rob Portman, senator from Ohio, who's close to Romney and was budget director under the most recent President Bush.

NEARY: Now, the current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said he will step down after the election. So if President Obama wins, who's on his shortlist?

YDSTIE: Well, Lynn, there's been a lot of talk about Erskine Bowles, who chaired the president's deficit reduction commission, Simpson-Bowles commission. He's popular with Republicans and with Wall Street. And remember, he's a foreign investment banker who became President Clinton's chief of staff. But he's criticized President Obama for not pushing the Simpson-Bowles plan more aggressively.

I think a more likely choice by President Obama is Jack Lew, the current White House chief of staff and formerly the president's budget director. Lew has the budget expertise to tackle the big issues that are on the Treasury's plate: the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling and a grand bargain on deficit reduction.

NEARY: Thanks very much, John.

YDSTIE: You're welcome, Lynn.

NEARY: NPR economics correspondent John Ydstie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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