LaHood Steps Down
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced on Tuesday, January 29th his plan to resign. As a former Republican congressman from Illinois, LaHood added a bipartisan element to the Obama administration. LaHood played a large role in helping with the passage of a highway funding bill that had stalled due to disagreement between the parties. Though the current cabinet will lose a Republican member with LaHood's departure, President Obama has nominated Senator Chuck Hagel, another Republican, to be defense secretary.
President Obama noted that LaHood has fought to grow the U.S. economy and create jobs by building transportation infrastructure. The President recalled that he and LaHood were brought together by their common commitment to service and allegiance to the American public over partisan politics. Despite serving in a Democratic administration, LaHood has maintained strong ties with the Republican party, though the party has since shifted farther to the right of his more moderately conservative position.
During the 2009 Toyota recall, Lahood was known for advising a congressional panel that drivers should simply stop driving recalled Toyota vehicles until the safety issues are resolved. This caused the company's stock to tumble. He later clarified his statement, explaining that he simply meant Toyota owners should immediately take their cars to be serviced if affected by the recall. LaHood has received praise from the Ed Hamberger, President of the Association of American Railroads, Janet Kavinoky of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and House of Representatives Democratic Party Whip, Steny Hoyer.
LaHood's departure will allow the president to bring new faces and fresh ideas into his cabinet. The president is currently under pressure to bring more women and minorities into key positions in the administration. Other expected departures include Chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, and Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, who is expected to be replaced by John Kerry. Possible successors who may replace LaHood include Chris Gregoire, former Governor of Washington, Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles, former Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, Debbie Hersman, National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman, and Jane Garvey, former Federal Aviation Administration head.
Challenges the next secretary is expected to face will include modernizing the United States' air traffic control system and finding funding for the country's considerable infrastructure needs. However, because LaHood's resignation came in the midst of the discovery of safety problems with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, discovering the root cause of the safety issues may be the most imminent issue the new secretary will need to tackle. LaHood stated that the government is working closely with the country's leading exporter to return the planes to service; however, the safety issues will need to be resolved first.
LaHood is expected to continue to serve in his position until his successor is confirmed by the Senate.