In a country balanced on the precipice of a “fiscal cliff,” we sure are talking a lot about the next secretary of state. In his second term, President Barack Obama will also likely have to name a new treasury secretary, defense secretary, transportation secretary, Securities and Exchange Commission chairman and Central Intelligence Agency director, at the least. But, despite an imminent fiscal cliff, suffocating unemployment and a widening disparity of wealth across the United States, it is the anticipation of Hillary Clinton’s replacement that has sparked the most discussion.
Largely, this is because of Susan Rice. Rice, a longtime foreign policy adviser to Democrats, has been Obama’s United Nations ambassador for four years. Obama, reports suggest, would like to nominate her to be the new secretary of state. Republicans, reports are clear, are having none of it. Rice’s involvement in the administration’s initial confusion over the embassy attack in Libya — she repeated the administration’s misinformed talking points — has made her the target of withering critiques before she is even officially nominated.
So what is Obama to do? If he nominates Rice, he will have an unnecessary fight on his hands. No matter how competent she might be, it is not clear that she would be confirmed, which is what matters most. And in a moment when bipartisan negotiation is — at least ostensibly — the most important goal in Washington, launching a politicized candidate into a nomination battle may not fly.
Instead of Rice, Republicans are whispering that that they would prefer John Kerry. And of course they would. Kerry’s ascension would leave an open Senate spot in Massachusetts, inviting Scott Brown to try to regain his title as junior senator. That may be too big of a risk for the Obama administration.
It is very much in vogue to discuss “outside the box” candidates. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s pick, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, certainly qualifies as an unlikely choice — and for good reason. Duncan is an absurd suggestion, as he carries no experience in the two areas that will be most vital for Hillary’s successor. (Duncan was able to poke fun at the absurdity himself.)