Recent presidents, including Clinton and George W. Bush, have tapped Wall Street veterans for Treasury. If Obama were to choose that model — and many are skeptical that he would — he could consider Larry Fink, chief executive officer of the huge money-management firm BlackRock, or Roger Altman, cofounder of Evercore Partners and a former deputy Treasury secretary.
Return to top
While the White House race is settled, the partisan budget battles are ongoing. Obama will want a seasoned person to oversee the agency charged with preparing and mapping out the president's budget. Some names bandied about in Democratic circles include:
"¢ Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, who is widely respected for his geeky and resolutely nonpartisan delivery of facts and figures. Peter Orzag, Obama's former OMB director, also came from the top CBO job.
"¢ Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy. He is well versed in budget battles, having helped to negotiate the 1993 and 1997 deficit-reduction acts.
"¢ Jeffrey Zients, the deputy director for management at OMB, who has received good marks in his role as the temporary public face of the agency.
"¢ Rob Nabors, the head of legislative affairs at the White House and Orzag's former deputy. Nabors once served as staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, experience that could help him push budgets through Congress.
Two possible long-shot candidates come from Capitol Hill. One is retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Six." Conrad has been obsessed with solving the deficit problem for years. The other long shot is Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking member on the House Budget Committee. His profile has risen considerably this fall as a key surrogate for the Obama campaign and one of the party's loudest critics of his House colleague Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee.
Return to top
COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS CHAIRMAN
The chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Krueger, has been on the job for only about a year, and he has yet to make a mark on administration policy. But his speeches on the dangers of growing income inequality in the U.S. have perhaps paved the way for a major second-term push by Obama to reverse the widening gap between the very rich and everyone else. Some insiders believe that Krueger will stick around into the second term, perhaps to guide that effort.
But if he opts to return to his teaching post at Princeton University, look for another accomplished academic to take his place and help flesh out a second-term economic agenda that has lived mostly in the realm of platitudes during the campaign. Possibilities include Peter Diamond, the Nobel Prize-winning economist at MIT whom Obama tried, and failed, to put on the Federal Reserve Board; and David Cutler, a Harvard economist who specializes in health care research, including efforts to reduce administrative health costs. Keep an eye, as well, on Jeffrey Liebman, a tax and budget scholar at Harvard who worked at the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton. More important, he emerged as one of the few new Obama economic advisers and surrogates on the campaign trail. Obama's first two CEA picks, Christine Romer and Austan Goolsbee, were campaign confidants. Liebman would certainly fit that bill.
Return to top
Democrats have never seemed to hold the Commerce Department in as much esteem as Republicans do, a pattern that continues to hold true under Obama, who has not had a Commerce secretary since June. In fact, in a now mostly forgotten move to reorganize the government earlier this year, Obama proposed to essentially eliminate the department. His plan would have combined much of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency into one new department. But the idea went nowhere.
With Commerce still alive for now, a number of administration officials might be interested in moving up to secretary in a second Obama term. Among them: Ron Kirk, Obama's U.S. trade representative since early 2009, who was at the helm of USTR when Congress passed the free-trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea; Fred Hochberg, who as the president of the Export-Import Bank is already one of the highest-ranking business officials in the Obama administration (he is the former president of the Lillian Vernon Corp.); and Karen Mills, the administrator of the Small Business Administration, a post that Obama elevated to Cabinet-level status earlier this year. Mills would bring a small-business sensibility to a department accustomed to working with large corporations. She also has experience in the private sector as the president of the private-equity firm MMP Group.
Return to top
In his first term, Obama had sweeping ambitions for the Energy Department, as signaled by his pick of Nobel physicist Steven Chu to lead the department. The idea was that Congress would pass a cap-and-trade climate-change bill and Chu would oversee a transformation of the once-backwater department into a driver of clean-energy development. Instead, cap-and-trade failed, a solar company called Solyndra got a $535 million Energy Department loan and went bankrupt, Chu was tarred with the controversy, and prospects for a climate bill are bleaker than ever. It's widely known in Washington that Chu wants to leave his post, but people close to the White House say that the president may ask him to stay. One reason: In the fiercely partisan Senate, it could be tough to get a new secretary confirmed.
One candidate who might make it through that process is former Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Respected by his Senate colleagues, the mild-mannered Dorgan formed many strong working relationships across the aisle. He's also steeped in energy policy and the inner workings of the Energy Department; he served for years on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; and he chaired the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Energy's budget. Although a big advocate of clean energy, Dorgan supports the oil and gas fracking boom that has brought an economic revival to his home state.
Also on the list are two former Clinton administration officials. One is Dan Reicher, who served as Clinton's assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, and from 2007 to 2011 was Google's director of climate-change and energy initiatives. He currently heads the Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University, where Chu was once a professor of physics. Of all the possible candidates, Reicher would likely offer the strongest continuation of Chu's legacy. The other former Clinton official is John Podesta, chairman of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, who was Clinton's chief of staff. Their progressive pedigrees could be stumbling blocks to Senate confirmation for both of these men, but Podesta, certainly, would be well suited to navigating the political vagaries of the top Energy post, which was widely seen as Chu's greatest failing.
Return to top
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY
The consensus is that the current secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, will stay on. She was a loyal foot soldier for the administration when it passed the politically tricky Affordable Care Act, but she has avoided taking too much of the blame for the law's unpopular features. Although she has not made a public commitment to holding her post, Sebelius is thought to be determined to see the law fully implemented.
If the secretary goes, however, Lois Quam, the executive director of the Global Health Initiative at the State Department is a possibility for HHS. She previously worked in Minnesota on a project to expand insurance access, and she is highly regarded in the White House. Several Democratic governors might be considered (but they may be on short lists for other Cabinet posts as well). Martin O'Malley of Maryland has overseen one of the most aggressive state health-insurance exchange-building exercises in the country; Deval Patrick of Massachusetts has presided over the implementation of his state's ahead-of-the-curve health reform law; John Kitzhaber of Oregon has overseen major health reforms, including a massive experiment in lowering Medicaid costs.
Nancy-Ann DeParle, the president's deputy chief of staff, once ran the White House's Office of Health Reform, but she may prefer to stay put. Sebelius's job in the first term has been to sell health care reform. The next HHS secretary will need to be a great administrator who can make it a reality across the country.
Return to top
HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY
Most insiders expect HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to stick around. In an interview on C-SPAN last month, he said he has "loved" serving the president. "It's up to him," Donovan said, adding, "I'm very, very happy with the work that I'm doing."
As HUD secretary, Donovan campaigned both for the president's reelection and for the administration's housing goals. Ever since Obama laid out several housing initiatives in February, Donovan has talked them up throughout the country and pushed for them in Washington. Donovan often points to Obama administration accomplishments, including the national mortgage-servicing settlement reached with top lenders earlier this year that requires them to dedicate billions of dollars to foreclosure prevention; improvements made to the government's main refinancing program; and efforts to stabilize home prices and neighborhoods.
Should Obama not choose Donovan, the administration could look to Carol Galante, the acting Federal Housing Administration commissioner and assistant secretary for housing at HUD. Before joining HUD in 2009, Galante served as president and chief executive of BRIDGE Housing, a nonprofit developer of affordable, mixed-use housing developments in California.
Return to top
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was slammed for his department's handling of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and some Washington insiders speculated then that Obama would ask him to go. But after having weathered that political storm, Salazar may be the one who wants to cut ties and Obama the one who demurs. One reason: The deeply partisan Senate could block confirmation of another secretary, a scenario Obama would like to avoid.
If Salazar steps down, the president will likely look west for his next Interior secretary. The department, which oversees oil and gas drilling — and also conservation — on the nation's 700 million acres of public lands, is traditionally run by a governor or senator from a Western state. One candidate may be Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who supports the president's progressive clean-energy and climate-change agenda, and has pushed policies to move her state off coal-fired electricity. Another possibility is John Berry, director of the White House Office of Personnel Management, a previous director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Zoo. Berry has held posts at the Interior Department as well as at the Treasury Department and the Smithsonian Institution.
No matter who takes the helm at Interior, the administration is likely to continue to push for increased development of renewable energy on public lands.
Return to top
Hilda Solis has the backing of organized labor, which is collectively girding to ride out the ongoing Republican assault on long-held sacred union cows. Unions have little in the way of a realistic affirmative second-term agenda for Obama, having all but resigned themselves to the fact that the Employee Free Choice Act, known as "card-check," isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and that Republicans nationally are set on enacting right-to-work legislation and scaling back collective-bargaining rights.
Should Solis leave, a host of longtime Democratic officials are waiting in the wings, many of them holdovers from the Clinton era. Deputy Secretary Seth Harris worked in the department during the Clinton administration, and Maria Echaveste, cofounder of the Nueva Vista Group, was President Clinton's deputy chief of staff. Olena Berg Lacy, a board member at Financial Engines, was assistant secretary for pension and welfare benefits under Clinton. Laborites say they would love to see Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, in the post. Despite its public-policy beating of late, labor does not lack friends on the Hill among Democrats. Reps. George Miller of California and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio have long been staunch allies. Union members are still grateful to former Rep. David Bonior of Michigan and former Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri for their opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Carrie Wofford, the senior Democratic counsel on the Senate Health Education Labor, and Pension Committee, also wins high marks. But a Democratic president, of course, signed NAFTA. The challenges that organized labor now faces come from Republicans and go far beyond free trade. Any Labor secretary in a second Obama term is likely to be playing more defense than offense.
Return to top
With much of the country in severe drought, and with the farm bill stalled in Congress, Secretary Tom Vilsack's job has taken on a higher profile than normal, and the administration doesn't seem to be afraid to put him front and center. Vilsack spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August. "President Obama has a detailed plan for a new rural economy: more support for small businesses making, creating, and innovating; more investment in the production of biofuels and other biomaterials; more trade and more markets," Vilsack declared. There's more than a good chance that Vilsack will be sticking around for this "detailed plan," but lobbyists are trading rumors that perhaps the administration might want someone with more of a congressional background. After all, the president has had a less-than-perfect relationship with Capitol Hill. Possibilities would then include lawmakers past and present. One certainly in contention would be former Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. She was the first woman to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee and was a key player in the passage of the 2008 farm bill, before losing her seat to Republican John Boozman in 2010. Retiring Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, a Democrat who sits on the Ag Committee, is a name that pops up. Conrad has been known to work with members across the aisle, most notably Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, in an effort to pass farm bills. Another wild-card possibility would be Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who just won one of the closest senatorial elections in the country and is the only working farmer in the chamber.
Return to top
One year ago, Secretary Ray LaHood was caught off guard when a Chicago reporter cornered him after a media event and asked him if he planned to stick around for Obama's second term. He answered honestly: He didn't plan to stay. The unplanned announcement set off a media firestorm for one news cycle, and then everyone forgot about it. LaHood continued his duties shepherding a highway bill through Congress and campaigning against texting while driving. He recently waffled on his year-in-advance resignation before an industry forum in Atlanta, saying he and the president would "figure it out" after the election.
If LaHood steps down, which seems to be his preference, candidates are eagerly waiting in the wings. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is probably the front-runner. He has been actively promoting Obama's infrastructure agenda, had a speaking role at the Democratic National Convention, and has the added advantage of being Hispanic. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, another diehard infrastructure advocate, is also a possibility. If Obama is looking for another moderate Republican like LaHood, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been active on infrastructure issues (along with "¦ wait for it "¦ former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger). Another possibility is Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, a longtime LaHood ally in Congress.
Return to top
This one is easy. Secretary Arne Duncan has already said he is sticking around under an Obama administration "unless the president gets sick of me." That's unlikely to happen, considering that Obama and Duncan both cut their teeth on politics in Chicago and have a strong personal relationship. Duncan is also popular in Washington. He was confirmed unanimously without even a whisper of dissent. Whatever controversy he stirred up as the head of the Chicago Public Schools is ancient history. His Republican detractors criticize his policies as too prescriptive, but they blame Obama more than Duncan. Many Republicans like Duncan because he has shown some willingness to take on the teachers unions.
Among Cabinet members, Duncan has an outsized influence on domestic-policy development. White House officials view the Education Department's Race to the Top competitive grant program as one of the most successful ways it can encourage change without ponying up tons of federal dollars. Well over 30 states have embarked on some sort of school-reform effort in hopes of winning one of the grants. Grants have gone to 19 states and several districts. Duncan and Obama are both enormously proud that 46 states have signed on to the Common Core State Standards for K-12 schools; they believe that Race to the Top deserves some of the credit for that achievement.
Return to top
The person tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency will have what's expected to be one of the busiest and most controversial agendas over the next four years. Whether Administrator Lisa Jackson stays or goes, the EPA will be under attack just as much in the next four years. Demanding much of the administration's political capital will be EPA's contentious greenhouse-gas rules for oil and gas refineries and coal-fired power plants and the smog standard that Obama punted in September 2010. The next agency chief will face pressure from Obama's environmental base to go full throttle on these rules after slow-walking most of them throughout the election season.
Sources close to the Obama campaign were split on whether Jackson will stay for another term. Practically speaking, getting a new EPA administrator confirmed in another Obama term would be a Herculean task. Bob Perciasepe, the agency's deputy administrator and chief operating officer, is widely rumored to be a top choice to move up if Jackson leaves. He is respected in both environmental and industry circles as someone who seeks consensus on usually divisive issues and so might be able to survive a confirmation gantlet. Some environmental groups would like to see Heather Zichal, the White House's top aide on energy and climate issues, take the helm at EPA if Jackson leaves. Zichal might also face a comparatively easy confirmation process, given that she has worked collaboratively with the oil and natural gas sector on EPA rules. Bradley Campbell, who as commissioner of New Jersey's Environmental Protection Department from 2002 to 2006 was Jackson's boss before she came to Washington, is also placed in the running. He has a consulting firm in New York and spent five years in the Clinton administration as associate director of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. A more ambitious — and controversial — option would be Mary Nichols, who as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board promulgated the Golden State's cap-and-trade program for greenhouse-gas emissions that has come under intense attack from major oil companies.
Return to top
The Obama White House has carried the name of Merrick Garland, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in its back pocket for use when Senate Republicans could make confirmation difficult for a liberal-leaning nominee to the high court. Garland is a former high-level Justice Department official who oversaw the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and is widely viewed as a judicial moderate. His nomination would likely be a no-fuss confirmation. Having appointed Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan during his first term, Obama may feel less pressure to appoint a woman or a minority if a vacancy arises. But if, say, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires, a more natural choice could be Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who might be treated more gently by her Senate colleagues than other nominees. Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor and state attorney general, has also been widely mentioned as a possible candidate who could provide a Sandra Day O'Connor-like perspective to the Court. An up-and-comer is Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California. Harris is young (48), and is the first African-American and the first Asian-American to hold her position.
Return to top
FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD
Obama reappointed current Chairman Ben Bernanke once and could do so again when his term ends in January 2014. The move would provide stability; by now, Bernanke's philosophy and leadership style are well-known in Washington and on Wall Street. If the economic recovery remains lackluster or takes a bad turn, however, folks could be looking for a change in leadership at the Fed (although the argument for stability would apply in this instance, too). Even if Obama asks him to stay, there's no guarantee that Bernanke will say yes to a third term. The past six years have been busy, to say the least, and the former Princeton professor could be ready for a return to academia. He has been mum on the matter so far.
If Bernanke steps down, Janet Yellen, the Fed's current vice chair, could be the first woman to head the central bank. She has serious economic and policy chops, having served as head of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and been a member of the Fed Board of Governors in the 1990s; she chaired the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 1997 to 1999. "I think Janet is the leading candidate, and, to me, she is a very good leading candidate," said Stephen Oliner, a former Fed adviser who is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; he added that her "deep expertise" makes Yellen well respected. She would be expected to bring an activist approach to Fed policy similar to Bernanke's.
Currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Donald Kohn has a lot of experience with the Fed. His 40-year career in the Federal Reserve System concluded with a four-year stint as vice chairman, from 2006 to 2010. But Kohn will be 71 when Bernanke's term expires, and he told The New York Times in a 2010 interview, "It's time to move on, to do other things, to dial back the intensity a little bit." A stint as Fed chairman would be doing precisely the opposite.
Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers was mentioned as a possibility during the lead-up to Bernanke's reappointment in 2009. He has the economic and policy background: Beyond Treasury, Summers has served at the World Bank and the National Economic Council. But his leadership history — important at a time when the Fed's policy-setting committee is divided — could be a stumbling block; Summers resigned as president of Harvard University in 2006 amid disagreements with the faculty and controversy over remarks he made about innate gender differences.
Return to top
Caren Bohan, Coral Davenport, Chris Frates, Fawn Johnson, Major Garrett, Amy Harder, Catherine Hollander, Michael Hirsh, Stacy Kaper, James Kitfield, James Oliphant, Jim O'Sullivan, Margot Sanger-Katz, and Ben Terris contributed
NOTE: Updates were made to this article after the print deadline. A previous version appeared in the print edition as "Second Act."