Say Obama wants to make a grand gesture; what jobs are left? If he names a female labor secretary to succeed Solis, that will keep him at the status quo. But it’s not a top job and it’s one many women have held. Plus Solis is Hispanic, so now there’s that to worry about as well.
The only immediate opening with stature roughly equivalent to secretary of State, Defense, or Treasury is Lew’s job as White House chief of staff. To name a woman, Obama would have to throw top mentionees Ron Klain (former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden) and Denis McDonough (currently deputy national-security adviser) under the bus. He does have some logical female options, starting with Nancy-Ann DeParle and Alyssa Mastromonaco. Both now hold the title of deputy chief of staff.
This is another reason why the Chuck Hagel defense secretary nomination was an odd choice. Michele Flournoy was arguably more qualified than Hagel for the role, yet she was passed over. Now, if Obama nominates a woman, it will look like a tokenism under external pressure. Worse, because all the roles he has left to fill are of lower standing, this makes it seem like he doesn’t trust a woman in a higher-ranking position.
There isn’t anything the left can do about this but complain, and I doubt this controversy will drag on much longer. Still, the extent of the backlash seems to have caught the White House off-guard, which only adds to the sense that Obama was unprepared for the second term transition.