WASHINGTON – Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, the third person to head the sprawling department created to safeguard the country from threats ranging from natural disasters to terrorism, will leave the government to head the University of California system.
A former governor of Arizona, Napolitano, 55, joined Obama’s Cabinet at the start of his administration and was a key player throughout. At one point, she was considered a possible pick for the Supreme Court, and she helped carry out Obama administration policies that drew criticism from immigration advocates who said they deported too many and lawmakers who said they didn’t go far enough.
Her departure at the end of the summer comes as Obama tries to move a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws through a Congress at odds over how to deal with the estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally.
Names of possible successors began floating within hours of her announcement.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer called White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to make a pitch for New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, saying, “We need someone just as good who can fill (Napolitano’s) shoes.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to speculate on any candidates and said Obama would be “very deliberate” in making a choice.
Napolitano called her four years at Homeland Security “the highlight of my professional career” and said the department had minimized “threats of all kinds to the American public.”