A Cabinet Full of Women? A Look at Clinton’s Potential Inner Circle

A Cabinet Full of Women? A Look at Clinton’s Potential Inner Circle

By Sean Braswell


Because these are the folks who will be tasked with running a divided country.

By Sean Braswell

Part of a series on what Hillary Clinton’s first 100 days in the White House could look like if she wins the election — and the lessons that might help her during those pivotal early days.

After her husband nominated a trio of men to fill three of his top four Cabinet positions — at the Treasury, Defense and State departments — in 1993, First Lady Hillary Clinton insisted that the fourth slot (attorney general) go to a woman. And it did, although it took several attempted nominations to get there. (Can’t recall the drama? Google “Zoe Baird + Nannygate.”)

Today, as she looks forward to what might be her own administration, HRC has made no secret that she wants a Cabinet “that looks like America” — that is, at least half female — and it’s almost certain that her transition team has already started going through plenty of binders full of women to ensure that it does. But in seeking a “parity cabinet,” Clinton will be looking for a Cabinet that is broadly representative of her governing coalition, says Jennifer Piscopo, a politics professor at Occidental College. That also means balancing other considerations, such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and party affiliation — not to mention personal loyalty and a token Republican or two (something her husband’s first Cabinet lacked). 

Indeed, it’s almost a certainty that Clinton’s administration will be the most diverse in history, says Iowa State political science professor Steffen Schmidt. Here’s OZY’s take on who might make the next Cabinet cut as Clinton balances these considerations and plays one helluva “woman card.”

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Secretary of Defense

Clinton could try to reach across party lines on defense by nominating a Republican like Maine Sen. Susan Collins (as Obama did with Robert Gates), but Maine’s Republican governor could fill Collins’ senate seat with someone more conservative. Our wild-card pick, Fanning, was appointed by Obama as secretary of the Army early this year and is a rising star but still isn’t quite ready for primetime. That leaves Flournoy, who served several roles in the first Clinton administration, as an easy pick, says Northeastern professor Daniel Urman. She’s widely respected and would make history as the first woman in charge of the Pentagon.


Secretary of State

National Security Advisor Susan Rice should have been next in line for Clinton’s old job, but she previously withdrew her name from consideration amid the Benghazi turmoil — and she remains a long shot. (Another long shot, and the ultimate Obama holdover? Vice President Joe Biden). That opens the door for Burns, a longtime Clinton ally at the State department who runs the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, making him the safe Tim Kaine–like choice and perhaps the token white male at the top of the Cabinet. But if Clinton opts for another woman as her chief diplomat, then it should be Sherman, a former social worker from the first Clinton administration who helped negotiate the historic Iran deal.

Secretary of the Treasury

There’s considerable speculation that Clinton will make Sandberg the first woman to head the Treasury department, though Sandberg’s got a pretty good job — and the Bernie crowd could lean in to oppose her, says Urman. It’s also possible Clinton could go for another history-making business titan, such as Apple’s Tim Cook or Xerox’s Burns, but we think she’ll go for Brainard, a Treasury veteran and MIT professor who has private-sector experience — at McKinsey, but not on Wall Street — and is now on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. Brainard was also once Clinton’s (no. 42) deputy national economic adviser.

U.S. Attorney General

There are loads of talented lawyers in the hunt for this spot, including former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general. Lynch, the first Black woman to hold the position, could stay on, but her role in the decision not to move forward with the Clinton email case may compromise her chances. Perez, a well-regarded civil-rights lawyer and former assistant attorney general, seems to be the consensus pick — and for good reason. He would tick a number of boxes: an Obama holdover and Hispanic, not to mention trusted by Clinton and on her VP short list.

White House Chief of Staff

This is likely Podesta’s job to refuse, but will he want to return for another stint after holding the post under Bill? Our bet is that a WikiLeaked Podesta will demur in favor of another gig — perhaps secretary of energy — and Hillary will opt for another familiar face to become the first female White House chief of staff: Mills, her chief of staff at the State department (and deputy White House counsel for Bill).

The rest of Clinton’s senior staff and policy advisers will also include a litany of talented women and loyal aides, including Huma Abedin, Minyon Moore and Neera Tanden, but the scope of their roles could well be influenced by how much damage Wikileaks does to their reputations in party circles.

Other Key Picks

National Security Advisor: Another close Clinton aide who could well make the jump to this position is her senior policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, a Rhodes scholar who used to advise Vice President Biden on national security.

Press Secretary: This could go to Clinton’s campaign press secretary, Brian Fallon. But, more likely, it will go to the more senior Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s communications director and Obama’s former White House communications director.

Secretary of Health and Human Services: The job of improving Obamacare will most likely go to a trusted figure like Tanden, who played a key role in its development and acts as Clinton’s senior policy adviser. Yet if Clinton goes outside the box, it could be to someone like Kentucky’s former GOP governor, Steve Beshear, who successfully implemented health-care reform in a deep red state.

Token Republican: A more likely conservative pick than Beshear is Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise who unsuccessfully ran for California governor in 2010. More recently, she sat with Clinton’s family at the final presidential debate and has supported Clinton’s presidential bid. Could she be HRC’s Commerce secretary?

Token Obama Holdover: If neither Perez nor Lynch sticks around as attorney general, then the best bet for an Obama holdover could be Education Secretary John King, who just started the job in March.

First Openly Gay Cabinet Member: Some speculate that Annise Parker, the former Houston mayor, could fill this historic role as the new secretary of Housing and Urban Development. But the better bet is John Berry as secretary of the Interior, Obama’s director of the Office of Personnel Management, who comes with more Washington experience and Clinton ties (he was an assistant secretary at Interior under Bill). 

Celebrity Cabinet Member: Clinton has no shortage of famous friends and fans, including billionaire Mark Cuban, who has shown an interest in politics. As WikiLeaks recently revealed, however, both Bill and Melinda Gates, in addition to Cook, Burns and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, were on her team’s long list for VP. Why not nominate Melinda for a Cabinet-level position like U.S. ambassador to the UN?