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Could President Obama use some ‘binders full of women’ in choosing his cabinet?

In the Oval Office, the President Barack Obama meets with senior advisers to discuss the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.

Chuck Kennedy/The White House

President Barack Obama might consider borrowing Mitt Romney's binders full of women – as the running joke goes in the Twittersphere.

Women voters – who made up a larger share of the electorate than men and swung to the incumbent by a 12-point margin – were instrumental in Mr. Obama's November election win. But as he names his second-term cabinet – looking to fill key positions opened up by departing members – there is some disappointment.

"The face of power that President Obama has chosen to present to the country and the world with his second-term Cabinet picks is striking — except for the African American president at the top of the pyramid — for its retro look, white and male. It's "Mad Men" Goes to Washington, except Peggy's leaving," writes the Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.

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Mr. Obama is set to name Jacob Lew today (1:30 p.m. ET), his current chief of staff, as his nominee to replace the outgoing Timothy Geithner at the Treasury department – ending a week of key second-term cabinet announcements.

"At the rate he is going, Obama is going to have a Cabinet that looks more like the Augusta National Golf Club than America. The four top Cabinet posts will probably go to white men…," writes Bloomberg News columnist Margaret Carlson.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, 36 per cent of Mr. Obama's first term cabinet included women, higher than the percentage in President George W. Bush's first term (19 per cent) and second term (24 per cent) cabinets – but lower than President Bill Clinton's second term (41 per cent).

Here is a list of the second-term Obama appointees so far – all still need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate: Senator John Kerry replacing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Chuck Hagel replacing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and White House counterterrorism adviser filling the job of America's top spy master at the CIA. White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew for the job of Treasury Secretary would make the fourth white male nomination.

Initially, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, an African American woman, was in the running to become the next secretary of state. But a backlash led her to withdraw her name. Mr. Hagel has also been a controversial pick to Republicans who see the former GOP senator as a maverick who opposed the Iraq troops surge. However, Mr. Obama has committed to fighting for his secretary of defence pick. Michele Fluornoy, who served as undersecretary of defence, was reportedly on the shortlist and would have been the department's first woman Secretary of Defence.

Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked whether diversity was a consideration as Mr. Obama's chooses his cabinet. Mr. Carney said the president "values diversity."

"But the goal in the end is to find the very best individuals for these specific positions… And that will be what guides him as he makes further decisions," said Mr. Carney.

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The growing talk of the lack of representation in Mr. Obama's cabinet picks has extended to his advisers.

A New York Times photo published this week show Mr. Obama with his senior advisers in the Oval Office has the following cheeky cutline: "President Obama on Dec. 29 with senior advisers in the Oval Office. The only woman facing the President was (look very closely) Valerie Jarrett, whose leg is just visible in front of the desk." In other words, ten white male advisers and an obscured senior adviser, Ms. Jarrett.

As noted by Politico's Mike Allen this morning, the White House delivered a bit of "pushback" to the way the photo framed the White House gender balance. The White House used its online "Photo of the Day" stream to release a photo (click to the second photo) showing Mr. Obama meeting with senior advisers in the Oval Office – three of the 8 advisers pictured are women.

The Obama constituency – women, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics – were all represented in the president's first term cabinet.

But on Wednesday, Labour Secretary Hilda Solis – a Hispanic-American woman and former California congresswoman – announced that she is stepping down.

"Leaving the department is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, because I have taken our mission to heart," said Ms. Solis. "As the daughter of parents who worked in factories, paid their union dues and achieved their goal of a middle-class life, and as the first Latina to head a major federal agency, it has been an incredible honor to serve."

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Lisa Jackson, the first African American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which is a Cabinet-rank position – announced earlier that she would be stepping down. Steve Chu, the first Asian American to hold the position of Energy Secretary, is not expected to serve a second term. Mr. Obama's key constituencies will be looking closely to see how the president fills those cabinet openings.

A report published Wednesday by Politico suggested that three Obama cabinet members – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder and Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who is Japanese American – are expected to continue in their positions during the second term.

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About the Author

Affan Chowdhry is the Globe's multimedia reporter specializing in foreign news. Prior to joining the Globe, he worked at the BBC World Service in London creating international news and current affairs programs and online content for a global audience. More


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