EXIT STRATEGY

Team Obama Heading for the Exits

The SEC chairman is just the latest top Obama administration official heading for the exits. Who wants out—and the scramble to fill the emptying chairs.

President Obama may have grand plans for his second-term agenda. But first he’s got some jobs to fill. Mary Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is just the latest in a line of high-ranking members of Team Obama to announce they’re heading for the exits. A look at who wants out, and who’s generating buzz in the fight over high-powered vacancies:

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SEC Chairman

Confirmed unanimously by the Senate in 2009, Mary Schapiro had served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton before her appointment as chairman of the SEC by President Obama. After announcing Monday that she will step down from the position in December, Elisse Walter, a current member of the SEC appointed by George W. Bush, was tapped as her replacement. "I'm confident that Elisse's years of experience will serve her well in her new position, and I'm grateful she has agreed to help lead the agency," Obama said.

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Secretary of State

Obama’s famous “Team of Rivals” pick has been a leading light of his administration. But after the Arab Spring, the death of Osama bin Laden, WikiLeaks, and the Benghazi attacks, Hillary Clinton can be forgiven for signaling she wants to come off the road. While Hillaryland dreams of a possible presidential run in 2016—a dream Clinton herself has repeatedly denied sharing—speculation over who might take her place has become one of Washington’s hottest parlor games. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, whose prospects have dimmed a bit owing to her role in the messy rollout of intel about the Benghazi attacks, may be on the rebound; Sen. John McCain has indicated he will meet with Rice on Tuesday.. Sen. John Kerry, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, and Samantha Power are also mentioned in the mix.

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Director of the CIA

The ongoing sex scandal that forced the resignation of widely respected Gen. David Petraeus left an unexpected hole for President Obama to fill. Acting Director Michael Morell, a career CIA man who The New York Times called "the agency's most respected intelligence analyst," is the overwhelming favorite to succeed Petraeus, but recently former California congresswoman Jane Harman and former Republican senator Dick Lugar from Indiana have also been mentioned for the post.

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U.S. Treasury Secretary

Named Hank Paulson’s successor in 2009 after a six-year as president of New York Fed, Timothy Geithner announced earlier this year his intention to step down even if President Obama was reelected. Criticized by members of both parties for his role in the 2008 Wall Street bailout, Geithner reportedly wanted Secretary Clinton to assume the position, but today the reported frontrunner is believed to be current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew. Fix the Debt crusader Erskine Bowles is also mentioned as a possible candidate.

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Secretary of Defense

Although he says he won’t step down right away, Leon Panetta admits that he does plan to relinquish his role sometime during President Obama’s second term. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Michèle Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, emerged in the immediate aftermath as the two frontrunners. But Democratic senators Jack Reed from Rhode Island and John Kerry from Massachusetts also receive frequent mentions for the position.

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Chairman of the Federal Reserve

The New York Times reported in October that Ben Bernanke would likely step down as Fed Chairman in January 2014, regardless of who won the 2012 election. Bernanke’s handling of the 2008 financial meltdown has been staunchly criticized by his opponents, as have his various rounds of quantitative easing. The Fed’s Vice Chairman Janet Yellen has emerged as an early favorite to succeed Bernanke, but she’s not the only high-profile name up for consideration. Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary under Clinton and Chair of the National Economic Council under Obama, is believed by many to be the heir apparent to Bernanke.

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Attorney General

Eric Holder drew more than his share of fire during Obama’s first term; he was blasted for announcing plans to try accused terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan (Holder backed down), and his handling of the failed “gun-walking” program, Operation Fast and Furious, was an issue down the stretch of the fall campaign. Holder was said to be heading for the exits—sparking speculation that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were in the running as possible replacements. But Holder has reportedly decided to stick around at the president’s request, at least for a little while.