Despite beginning what is likely to be a series of high-profile appointments of women to his administration, President Obama’s most senior advisers at the start of his second term will continue to predominantly be men.
Obama has come under criticism for relying mainly on men as his top advisers. With moves like Thursday’s announcement that he wants to install REI CEO Sally Jewell as Interior Secretary and the expected nomination of Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker to be Secretary of Commerce, the president is hoping to tamp down the noise.
But those appointments are little more than window dressing, because the locus of power in the administration is in the White House and among a few select Cabinet secretaries. And Interior and Commerce are not among them.
There are arguably 17 people within the administration who are the most senior and who have the most constant access to the president. Only three of them are women: Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri and, assuming current chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan moves to CIA, Lisa Monaco, who will take Brennan’s place.
The rest are all men. That is, the percentage of women in the United States is 50.9 percent. The percentage of female senior Obama advisers is 17.6 percent.
The men are also almost all white. They are: Vice President Joe Biden; White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; Counselor to the President Pete Rouse; National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling; Acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients; Press Secretary Jay Carney; and Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger.
Obama meets one-on-one regularly with only three Cabinet members, and all will be men in his new administration: the Defense Secretary, who is expected to be former Sen. Chuck Hagel; the Secretary of State, John Kerry; and the Treasury Secretary, for which position Obama has chosen former Chief of Staff Jack Lew.
While he doesn’t meet with him as often, Attorney General Eric Holder is close to the president, holds a senior Cabinet post, and so is also arguably among the administration’s most elite group of power holders.
Notably, Obama’s entire economic team will consist of white men: Lew, Sperling, Krueger and Zients.
Among the women, Jarrett was present during the first term, while both Palmieri and Monaco are newly elevated to the top group. But Obama traded Hillary Clinton for John Kerry as Secretary of State. So despite all the claims by the White House that it has beefed up its distaff component, the net addition of women at the highest echelons of Obamadom amounts to one.