Washington, Feb. 8: Imagine half the ministers in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet resigning and the Prime Minister not naming replacements! Three weeks into Barack Obama’s second term, that is the state of the US President’s cabinet.
Obama is ducking intense criticism here for putting together a new cabinet which will not have a single woman in its top portfolios for the first time in recent presidencies. This follows the departure of Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state until last week and fourth in the line of succession to the White House according to the American Constitution and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.
Women voters helped propel Obama to victory in his re-election in November, but now feel cheated out of their dues and nurse a grievance that the President has frittered away opportunities to demonstrate his commitment to advancing women’s role in his administration.
Similarly, 71 per cent of Latino voters supported Obama in November making rational Republicans realise that they are set to be the opposition forever unless their party changes its policies on immigration.
But the two Latino members of Obama’s cabinet have both resigned and he has not yet named any Hispanic to any portfolio yet. If he does not do so soon, America’s cabinet could be devoid of any Latino, again for the first time in recent presidential history.
All the President’s Men, is the title of Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s 1974 book which depicts their investigation into the Watergate break-in which led to Richard Nixon’s resignation from the White House. Two years later an Oscar-winning film with the same title was made out of their account.
The phrase, “All the President’s Men” is now being derisively used here widely to depict Obama’s current cabinet because it is mostly made up of men in terms of importance and lacks women in critical roles.
Ironically for this country’s first black President, Obama is being criticised not only for picking men to run key portfolios in his administration, but for choosing white men. The new secretary of state, John Kerry as well as Obama’s nominees for secretary of defence, Chuck Hagel and John Brennan as director of the CIA, are all white men.
The only incumbent Republican in Obama’s cabinet, transportation secretary Ray LaHood, has also announced his resignation. The President’s effort to bring in a high profile Republican as defence secretary has been stymied mainly by the powerful pro-Israel lobby here.
Hagel’s fate was supposed to have been decided yesterday by the Senate panel considering his nomination, but unsure of his confirmation, the Armed Services Committee on Wednesday announced that it was postponing a vote.
Energy secretary Steven Chu, a brilliant Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was an odd man out in the world of statecraft, too announced that he is leaving the government.
An ethnic Chinese, his departure will mark a significant reduction in minority representation in decision-making in the US government.
The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 30 Latino civil rights organisations spanning the US, has sent a letter to the White House highlighting the gap between their community’s expectations and what Obama has delivered so far.
“With the Latino community heading into the epicentre of an historic policy debate around immigration reform and related policies, your cabinet can ill-afford to not have the unique perspective and voice of high-level Latino members” in the cabinet, the letter said. Immigration reform providing a path to citizenship for children of millions of undocumented workers who migrated to the US through the backdoor is a priority in Obama’s second presidential term. He won Latino votes largely by promising such reform.
The group has proposed names of 19 Latinos to choose from as Obama completes his cabinet formation.
There is a high level of angst on the Beltway, Washington’s equivalent of Delhi’s Ring Road that goes round key parts of the national capital, that Obama overlooked his own former under secretary of defence, Michèle Flournoy, who is viewed as having done a good job as the second in command at the Pentagon, while choosing a successor to the outgoing defence secretary, Leon Panetta.
Many women activists had hoped that Flournoy would be appointed as America’s first woman to head the Pentagon. Those hopes gained shades of a mission after Republicans ensured that Obama’s original choice to succeed Clinton as top diplomat, Susan Rice, withdrew from consideration.
Rice, a black woman who was appointed as US’ permanent representative to the UN, a cabinet-level post in Obama’s first term, was heavily criticised for her handling of a terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, which killed America’s Ambassador to Libya.
Partly to offset criticism from women’s groups, Obama this week nominated Sally Jewell as the next interior secretary. Jewell is British by birth and has been running a $2 billion outdoor recreation firm selling mountain bikes to car-camping mattresses for nature lovers.
The departure of half of Obama’s cabinet has highlighted the somewhat odd fact that for the most powerful nation on earth, America’s cabinet has merely 15 members. There are only eight others who enjoy cabinet rank while serving in the administration.
Resignations by cabinet members when a President transitions into his second term are not unusual in America. But the highest attrition rate for cabinet members in US history belonged to two Presidents, Harry Truman and George W. Bush.
Truman changed all members of the cabinet during his presidency while the only cabinet member who lasted throughout the eight-year Bush presidency was his labour secretary, Elaine Chao.