WASHINGTON – The composition of President Barack Obama’s second-term Cabinet became clearer Wednesday, with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis resigning and three other members of the president’s team deciding to stay on amid concerns about diversity in Obama’s inner circle.
Solis, a former California congresswoman and one of the highest-ranking Hispanics in the Cabinet, said she was departing after leading the department during the economic storms of the first term. She was the nation’s first Hispanic labor secretary.
A White House official said three Cabinet members – Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki – would stay on as the second term begins. It would ensure diversity among the president’s leadership team – Holder is black, Sebelius is a woman and Shinseki is of Japanese-American descent.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel changes, said the three remaining officials were not an exhaustive list of which Cabinet members intended to stay.
Some Democratic women have raised concerns that the “big three” jobs in the Cabinet – State, Defense and Treasury – will be taken by white men. Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has been tapped as the next secretary of state; former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, was picked to run the Pentagon and White House chief of staff Jack Lew is expected to be named treasury secretary later this week.
The White House is expected to announce more members of Obama’s Cabinet in the coming weeks, giving the president a chance to present a team that reflects the diverse coalition of women, Hispanics and minorities that helped give him a second term.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a close friend of the president, removed her name from consideration for the State Department last month after criticism from Republicans about her initial comments about the attacks on Americans in Libya. Several female House Democrats said the criticism of Rice, who is black, was indicative of sexism and racism.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said last month she is stepping down after nearly four years as the administration’s chief environmental watchdog. No replacement has been named, although several names reportedly are under consideration, including Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Jackson’s deputy, Bob Perciasepe.
Gregoire is a longtime Obama ally who is leaving office next week after two terms, while Perciasepe is slated to take over as acting EPA administrator after Jackson leaves, expected in the next few weeks.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, meanwhile, is expected to leave sometime after the inauguration, while Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s plans are unknown. Contenders to replace Chu include former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Gregoire.
The only current Republican in the Cabinet, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, has not indicated whether he will leave the administration.
Obama said Solis was a “tireless champion for working families” and had been a key member of his economic team during a first term marked by efforts to rebound from the recession. She won praise from labor unions for an aggressive enforcement of wage and hour laws and job safety regulations but business groups criticized her as not taking a more cooperative approach.
Solis is expected to return home to California to run for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Sebelius, a former Kansas governor and insurance commissioner, had been widely expected to stay on to shepherd Obama’s health-care overhaul to its fulfillment. The big push to cover some 30 million uninsured Americans starts next year.
Holder, who served in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration, has faced a rocky tenure as attorney general, dealing with civil rights and terrorism cases along with a botched gun smuggling probe along the Southwest border.
He ordered a review of CIA interrogations during the Bush era amid disclosures that agency interrogators once threatened to kill a Sept. 11 suspect’s children and suggested another would be forced to watch his mother be sexually assaulted. The outcome of the exhaustive inquiry – it lasted three years and resulted in no criminal charges – prompted more criticism, this time from human rights groups.
Shinseki has sought to manage a large agency closely watched by returning troops as the war in Iraq ends and another one winds down in Afghanistan. He has dealt with problems ranging from homeless veterans, rising troop suicides and veteran unemployment and growing mental health care needs.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Pete Yost contributed to this report.