President Obama announced another cabinet appointment on Thursday, nominating his Chief of Staff Jack Lew to succeed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. So far, all of the president’s second term appointments have been white men, a fact that has been met with surprise and criticism, even from Democrats.
On Thursday, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen called the lack of women among the new appointees “disappointing.” Shaheen, whose state elected the nation’s first all-female delegation in November–-with two female senators, a female governor, and two congresswomen–appeared on Andrea Mitchell Reports Thursday to discuss the new White House cabinet and the importance of women in government.
“I would hope the president would follow New Hampshire’s lead,” Shaheen told Mitchell, pointing to the fact that women account for half of the population of the United States. “He still has an opportunity,” she added. “He has places where he could appoint women, and I hope he’ll take a look and do that.”
As for Jack Lew’s soon-to-be-open post as chief of staff, the front runners are Denis McDonough and Ron Klain. McDonough, a current Obama advisor, and Klain, a former chief of staff to vice President Biden, are also white men. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, one of the few women in the president’s cabinet, announced her resignation on Wednesday, leaving the White House with even fewer X chromosomes. This is not just a public relations problem for President Obama and his staff. According to Shaheen, it is a problem for democracy.
“We have different life experiences,” Shaheen told Andrea Mitchell. “We need a government that looks like America, so we can address the concerns that we hear from across the spectrum.”
Shaheen’s role in the confirmation process is a significant one. Serving on the Senate’s armed services and foreign relations committees, she’ll have a chance to question both cabinet nominees John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. And while Sen. Kerry’s nomination for secretary of state has been met with little opposition, the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., is not expected to be so smooth. Criticism of Hagel’s positions on many issues has come from both sides of the aisle, a rare situation for a cabinet nominee. The backlash against UN Ambassador Susan Rice came predominantly from Republicans. In recent weeks, several Democrats have joined the chorus of Hagel critics. Sen. Shaheen explained her reservations on Andrea Mitchell Reports.
“I think Sen. Hagel deserves all of our admiration for his service in Vietnam, for his service to the country as a senator from Nebraska,” Shaheen told Mitchell Reports, “but I do have some serious questions for him.” One of those questions concerns the Pentagon’s implementation of Shaheen’s amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, which the Senate recently passed unanimously. The amendment allows the military’s health insurance plan to cover the cost of abortion for servicewomen and military dependents who are survivors of rape and incest. But Shaheen also wants to ask Hagel about the one issue he has received most criticism for. “I want to hear what he has to say about Israel,” Shaheen told Andrea Mitchell, “and some of the statements that have been made about his past positions on Israel.”