Who Might Succeed Napolitano?

Sara Sorcher, National Journal
National Journal

WASHINGTON -- News that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is stepping down to become president of the University of California system sent Washington wonks into a frenzy of speculation about who would take her place this fall.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said he had no names to offer, given that Napolitano will remain in her post until early September. "The president will be very deliberate about looking at potential successors," Carney said Friday.

But that did not stop the guesswork.

Popular names floated by Hill sources who work on security issues included Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard admiral widely praised for his handling of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; Jane Harman, now CEO of the Wilson Center and a former House member from California who was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee; and Jane Holl Lute, who until recently served as Napolitano's No. 2 and left the department to work on international Internet issues; and Joe Lieberman, the independent (and hawkish) retired senator from Connecticut who chaired the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

One Senate aide speculated that Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine and former ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, may be another candidate. Another aide suggested Ray Kelly, the New York City police commissioner, who has developed a national reputation since 9/11.

Napolitano's impending retirement, according to a Hill source well versed in immigration issues, "was complete news to us this morning." Despite discovering that "the search is on and open" for a successor, the aide hopes that "whoever comes in will obviously be committed to aggressively supporting the Senate bill, the immigration bill."

A House staffer would like to see Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., a House Armed Services Committee member, in the post. Or perhaps Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick; Erroll Southers, a former nominee to run the Transportation Security Administration who withdrew his name from consideration; Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; or Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee.

Defense-watchers off the Hill also weighed in, noting that Mike Leiter, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center who is now a senior official at Palantir Technologies or current TSA Administrator John Pistole could be tapped.