New Faces In the President’s Crew

Includes videos and interactive visualization on presidential line of succession (Prezi)

Disclaimer: This is a video produced by the White House, not an independent source.

Change is a–coming to the president’s Cabinet.

As President Barack Obama prepares for his second term in the White House, he’ll be joined by a handful of new faces to help guide him through the sausage factory we call government.  The Cabinet includes the vice president and the heads (or “secretaries”) of 15 executive agencies, each of whom helps advise the president. PBS NewsHour Extra lists a good description of each position (you know, in case you’re looking for a new job).

It’s pretty common for a president entering a second term to switch up his Cabinet a bit. Of course, whether the departing Cabinet member has chosen to leave or was told to get packing is not always clear.

Each new Cabinet member is nominated by the president, but most need to be confirmed by a majority vote of the U.S. Senate. The practice of picking Cabinet members dates back to America’s first president, George Washington, who had a four member Cabinet that included Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War and Attorney General.

Out with the old, in with the new

At the time of publication, the following Cabinet members had announced their resignations:

  • Hillary Clinton; Secretary of State :  Senator John Kerry (D–Mass) has been nominated to replace her.
  • Timothy Geithner; Treasury Secretary: Jack Lew (the guy with the lousy signature), currently the president’s Chief of Staff, has been nominated to replace him.
  • Leon Panetta; Secretary of DefenseChuck Hagel, the former Senator from Nebraska, a Republican, has been nominated to replace him.
  • Hilda Solis; Secretary of Labor: Solis is the first Latina to serve in a Presidential Cabinet. It remains unclear who will replace her.
  • Ken Salazar; Secretary of the Interior: Salazar will leave the Cabinet in March. A replacement has not been selected yet.
  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson: Although not officially one of the 15 Cabinet positions, the head of the EPA has Cabinet –level rank. Her replacement has not yet been chosen.
  • Steven Chu; Secretary of Energy: Although his resignation has not been announced, his departure is widely anticipated.

The White House has also confirmed that at least three of its Cabinet members are definitely staying put: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder and Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Old Boy’s Club?

Historically, the president’s Cabinet — much like the office of the president itself — has been dominated by white guys, and it’s looking as though Obama’s second term Cabinet will be no different. Among the four woman in Obama’s first–term Cabinet, two are leaving. And thus far, Obama’s four nominations to fill empty posts (including John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency) have all been white men, a point the president has received a good amount of criticism for, particularly in the wake of UN Ambassador Susan Rice — a black woman — dropping out of the running for Secretary of State in December. One congressman — Rep. Charlie Rangel (D–N.Y.) — went as far as calling the lack of diversity in the Cabinet “embarrassing as hell.” Obama, however, responded by noting that there are still more appointments to be made, and the Cabinet makeup yet to be determined. 

In 1933, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins became the first woman appointed to a presidential Cabinet, serving under Franklin Roosevelt from until 1945.

And in 1966, Secretary of Housing Robert C. Weaver became the first African–American appointed to a Cabinet position, serving under President Lyndon Johnson until 1968.

The long line of succession

The Cabinet is also in the presidential line of succession should the president be incapable of performing his duties, resign or die. The Presidential Succession Act, signed into law by Harry Truman in 1947, states who will take his place. The entire Cabinet, is not supposed to be in one location at the same time. The only exception is when the Cabinet meets with the president in the White House as an entire body. But in pretty much every other circumstance, they are never all there. Most notably, when the president delivers the State of the Union Address, a different Cabinet member each year is chosen as the designated survivor and kept in a secure, undisclosed location during the entirety of the speech.

Scroll through this visualization to see the grand succession to power.

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