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President Obama now confronts two questions that he has been avoiding for more than a year: Who will replace Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and when.
Obama's decision, probably among the first personnel moves he makes, may set in motion a revamping of his economic and national security team, said four current and two former administration officials. Some advisers will depart and others will take on jobs that are opened up.
"The first thing is Treasury," said former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley. "You kind of have to figure out that one before everything else."
After becoming only the second president since World War II to win re-election with the unemployment rate above 6 percent, Obama will be shuffling his Cabinet and senior staff while negotiating with Congress to avoid the fiscal cliff.
In addition to replacing Geithner, Obama faces the departure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she isn't planning to serve in a second Obama term. The Commerce Department is headed by an acting secretary, Rebecca Blank, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the oldest Cabinet member at 74, hasn't indicated whether he will stay on. Many of the positions that will have to be filled are subject to Senate confirmation.
The leading candidates to succeed Clinton may be Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, officials said. Tom Donilon, Obama's national security adviser, is a long-shot choice, they said. Rice was a finalist for the World Bank presidency last spring. Obama picked then-Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, keeping Rice available for other positions in his second term, officials said. Her chances of confirmation may be hurt by her remarks about the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that Republicans have criticized as part of an administration campaign of deception surrounding the incident.
Much of the timing around Geithner's replacement depends on whether the White House can reach an agreement with Congress on a deficit reduction plan to avoid triggering spending cuts and tax increases known as the fiscal cliff. If a deal can be reached before the Jan. 1 deadline, Geithner could leave as soon as it is completed. If the solution is left for the next Congress, Obama may ask Geithner to stay, either to work on a deal or to reassure financial markets about the U.S. government's ability to trim the deficit.
"If they get a deal, he'll stay until early January," Daley said. "If they don't get a deal, they have to wait until they have someone announced and probably confirmed."
Once Obama settles on a new Treasury secretary, other jobs -- including chief of staff, National Economic Council director and Office of Management and Budget director -- can be filled, officials said. One of the top potential candidates for the Treasury job is White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, the officials said. A onetime aide to former Speaker Tip O'Neill who served as OMB director for Obama and former President Bill Clinton, Lew would bring a deep understanding of the tax and spending issues that could be at the center of the administration's negotiations with Congress in a second term.
If Obama doesn't pick Lew for Treasury, Lew may return to New York, where he worked for Citigroup's Alternative Investments, two officials said. Either scenario would leave a vacancy for chief of staff, a pivotal position who serves as the president's gatekeeper.