Since Friday’s announcement that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is stepping down, the favorite Washington parlor game of guessing who will replace her has begun in earnest.
DHS was created in 2002 in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 – it’s a smorgasbord of 22 disparate agencies from the Secret Service to emergency response to immigration enforcement.
Among those on the short list is U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who was the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s inaugural chairman in 2005 and who led the committee alongside then-U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent from Connecticut, once Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007 until then end of 2012. Collins and Lieberman led the Senate oversight of the still evolving department and both have been mentioned in the media, alongside others such as New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, as possible replacements for Napolitano.
Given the current delays facing some Obama administration nominees based on Republican Senate opposition, a Collins selection might seem tempting because of her likely support from senators on both sides of the aisle. But Collins is up for re-election in 2014 and appears assured of winning her seat, something not to be overlooked by national Republicans who hope to win back the Senate. It’s highly unlikely a Republican would win the Maine seat if Collins took an administration post.
Napolitano, who was praised by many for her leadership of the complex department, will take over as president of the University of California system in the fall. The former Arizona governor was the first woman DHS secretary and the longest serving, at just more than four years at the helm. Many suspect Napolitano, 55, has ambitions to surface again in a political role.
And as of now, the speculation about Collins moving to DHS is just that – speculation. Her spokesman said Sunday the president has not approached her about the job.
“Media speculation,” he wrote in an email. “[The president] hasn’t called.”
Maine senators have served in cabinets of presidents in different political parties before, most recently when former U.S. Sen. Bill Cohen, a Republican, was tapped by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, to serve as secretary of the Department of Defense.
President Barack Obama is thought to have looked to Maine for a previous cabinet pick, eyeing former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe as a possible secretary of the Department of Commerce at the start of his first term.