As President Barack Obama looks to his final two years in office – a period in which he is not likely to have a compliant Congress – he will probably need to rely more and more on executive actions that stretch the limits of his authority. He will also be likely to push in more liberal directions on issues such as climate change, immigration, civil rights, poverty and the economy.
On the surface, the game of musical chairs being played in recent days in President Obama's cabinet seems intended to elevate the star of San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, who is being nominated to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is seen as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2016 or beyond.
It also sheds light on Obama's thinking about his team for the final two years. Current HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan will become director of Office of Management and Budget (OMB), bringing Mr Donovan into Mr Obama's inner circle. OMB plays a role in nearly every aspect of the administration's actions. Its director is among the President's closest advisers.
Some people close to the White House were surprised by the change. With the housing market still weak and big legislative battles on housing looming, it might have made sense to keep Mr Donovan, a lifelong housing advocate, at HUD. He is well liked by liberal and civil rights groups that often have the White House in their firing line. He has also had key roles in lesser-known administration efforts that are important to Mr Obama, such as providing aid to bankrupt Detroit or developing "promise zones" to concentrate resources in the country's most impoverished areas.
Mr Obama has hinted that he wants to use the rest of his second term to focus in part on the challenges facing low-income communities – and the tangled intersection of race, poverty and crime that any new policies will need to address. Housing is a testing ground for many of those debates, and it's where Mr Donovan has been working for most of his career. It makes sense for Mr Obama to bring him closer to the White House.
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