Janet Napolitano, one of the Obama administration's highest-profile cabinet secretaries, taking a leading role on everything from national security to natural disasters to immigration, is poised to leave her post after four years on the job.
Janet Napolitano, the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and former governor of Arizona, is being named as the next president of the University of California system, in an unusual choice that brings a national-level politician to a position usually held by an academic. [...]Napolitano, who is a Democrat, was appointed by former President Clinton as the U.S. attorney in Arizona and then won elections as state attorney general and twice as governor, a position she held from 2003 to 2009. President Obama then named her to lead Homeland Security, an agency with an annual $60-billion budget and 240,000 employees.
The announcement comes as a pretty big surprise -- not only did Napolitano bypass an opportunity to step down after the 2012 elections, when first-term cabinet secretaries usually make the transition, but she was rumored to be eyeing a possible return to elected office, or perhaps even a Supreme Court nomination.
What's more, the timing for Napolitano's departure isn't entirely convenient given the larger political circumstances. It means a cabinet-secretary fight in the middle of a Senate dispute over filibusters; it means a fight over who'll lead DHS during a congressional fight over immigration reform; and incidentally, it's hurricane season.
Nevertheless, Napolitano departs her agency with a record she can be proud of, and the broad respect of those who've worked with her. Because this news is so unexpected, it's far too soon to say with any confidence who might succeed her in the cabinet, though National Journal has a list of some possible contenders, including retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen.
Postscript: In a statement this morning, Napolitano said, "For more than four years I have had the privilege of serving President Obama and his Administration as the Secretary of Homeland Security. The opportunity to work with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who serve on the frontlines of our nation's efforts to protect our communities and families from harm, has been the highlight of my professional career. We have worked together to minimize threats of all kinds to the American public. The Department has improved the safety of travelers; implemented smart steps that make our immigration system more fair and focused while deploying record resources to protect our nation's borders; worked with states to build resiliency and make our nation's emergency and disaster response capabilities more robust; and partnered with the private sector to improve our cybersecurity. After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next President of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation's next generation of leaders. I thank President Obama for the chance to serve our nation during this important chapter in our history, and I know the Department of Homeland Security will continue to perform its important duties with the honor and focus that the American public expects."