Eric Holder’s resignation as attorney general last week has led to widespread speculation about whom the Obama administration will pick as a replacement. There are rumors that former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is on the administration’s list of top contenders.
Based on comments made by people with close ties to the attorney general’s office, it’s likely that the Obama administration is seeking primarily female candidates for the AG position.
During an appearance on MSNBC Saturday, Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor with ties to the first family and Holder, repeatedly used female pronouns when referring to a possible replacement.
“I said she would be a great attorney general. And I’m not gonna put her name out. We’ll just see what happens, because I don’t want her to not be able to be confirmed by the Senate,” he told MSNBC’s Alex Witt. “And I think he’s gonna be sitting there for a long time waiting for the Republican senators to confirm a Democratic candidate, but I think she will be a great attorney general, and she will be in the steps of Janet Reno and other people and I think that will be great for the White House and the Department of Justice.”
On Thursday, POLITICO noted that Napolitano had been very close to being handed the position before:
There’s also at least one high-profile long-shot on the informal list being circulated inside Obama’s camp: former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who left Washington in 2013 to take over the massive University of California system, according to one Democrat with close ties to the White House. Napolitano was the original choice for the job at the start of Obama’s first term — a favorite of then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Holder, who had considered himself the sole front-runner for the job, was startled during the 2008-09 transition period when he was handed a Department of Justice binder that included headshots of himself and Napolitano as potential AGs.
The Holder-Napolitano rivalry was legendary: Once, after the former Arizona governor asked Holder about his future plans, the AG joked to a friend, “Sometimes I feel like Janet is touching me just to see if I’m still warm.”
Napolitano, who served as Arizona’s governor and attorney general before her stint at DHS, is currently the president of the University of California system. During the Clinton administration, Napolitano served as U.S. attorney for Arizona; and she has been considered for nomination to the Supreme Court in the past.
Napolitano’s tenure at DHS routinely brought her into the media spotlight as she attempted to defend her agency in multiple controversies. Under her watch, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was accused of failing to enforce immigration laws because of a policy of “prosecutorial discretion” that allowed ICE officials to ignore certain immigration violations. She was also visible in debates about Transportation Security Administration abuses.
“Secretary Napolitano’s tenure at the Department of Homeland Security was defined by a consistent disrespect for the rule of law,” said Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) when she stepped down.
If Napolitano is offered the position, there’s a chance she isn’t willing to give up her new gig to serve as AG for the final two years of the Obama presidency.
Andrew Gordon, a friend and former colleague of Napolitano, told Arizona Central that he’d be surprised if she took the spot.
“She’s new at the University of California. She loves her job. She finds it very challenging. She finds it really interesting. I haven’t spoken to her, but I would be very surprised,” he said.