Is Leon Panetta, the former California congressman now at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, destined to become President Barack Obama's pick for secretary of defense?
POLITICO thinks so. The Beltway-based publication declared that it has become "accepted wisdom" among Washington insiders that the 73-year-old Monterey Democrat, who was White House chief of staff and Office of Management and Budget director under former President Bill Clinton, is the obvious choice to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has announced plans to retire.
Noting that it's unclear whether Panetta has been offered the job or would want to take it on the job, POLITICO reports:
Gates's departure after more than four years at the Pentagon under two presidents has been widely anticipated for months. But the idea that Panetta would succeed him surfaced in a rare bit of Washington journalistic doubling down -- stories on April 7 in both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that he is the key part of an imminent move to reshuffle the Obama national security team.
And it all made sense: Panetta is a known quantity at the White House, has good relations on Capitol Hill and, with experience as chairman of the House Budget Committee and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton, is well prepared to tackle the budget slashing the Pentagon will confront in the coming years.
"Given the tasks before the next secretary of defense and the budget problems we confront and that following Bob Gates is no small challenge, in many respects, Panetta is the right person," said Fran Townsend, a White House homeland security official under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and a member of a CIA advisory panel.
If anything, the focus on the budget and Obama's announcement last week that he wants an additional $400 billion in cuts from defense and other security programs over the next 12 years have solidified the consensus that Panetta's nomination is inevitable.
"The budget was always going to be a big factor in these decisions," a senior official close to the discussions said. "It puts even more of a premium on [Panetta], but there was already a premium."
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