Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has emerged as the leading contender to become President Obama’s pick to serve as Secretary of Defense, according to several Democrats briefed on the process.
These same Democrats told Fox News that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is now being talked up within the administration as a more likely nominee for Secretary of State over Susan Rice, the current US ambassador to the United Nations.
These sources, however, told Fox News that Rice is being talked up privately as a potential pick for National Security Adviser since that post would not require Senate confirmation. Rice’s possible nomination as Secretary of State has been highly controversial because of allegations that she misled the public about the Benghazi terror attack.
One top Democratic source familiar with the process said that naming Rice to prestigious role of national security adviser would “save face” and would make the Senate confirmation process much easier, freeing the President up to spend more political capital on the budget battles with Republicans, instead of dealing with a threatened filibuster of Rice getting a promotion to the State Department by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and others.
“It would be the easiest confirmation ever,” this Democratic source said of Kerry and Hagel going before current and former colleagues in the Senate, which has long been known as the world’s most exclusive club.
If Rice were to move to the White House in the senior national security post, the current occupant of that job – Tom Donilon – could become White House Chief of Staff or fill another top role in the administration, according to several Democratic sources.
Other contenders for chief of staff are Denis McDonough, a current Deputy National Security Advisor, and Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden.
Current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew has privately indicated he wants to leave the post, and sources say he is a leading contender to become Treasury Secretary. Current Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both indicated they are stepping down early next year at some point.
All of the sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they said the President has not made any final decisions on personnel. White House spokesman Jay Carney also refused to comment on personnel moves Thursday when pressed at his daily briefing about the possibility of Hagel becoming Defense Secretary.
These Democrats told Fox the President met with Hagel earlier this month to discuss the post and the former lawmaker is a favorite of Biden, who has been pushing for his old colleague to get the job.
The addition of Hagel would add at least the look of bipartisanship in the second-term Cabinet, since Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, a former Republican Congressman, has indicated he would like to move on in a second term.
Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has long indicated that his wife Sylvia would like to see him leave public office and retire full-time to his beloved California.
Other contenders for Defense Secretary include Michele Flournoy, a former top official in the Pentagon earlier in the administration, and Ashton Carter, the current number two there.