His move continues an exodus that will give Obama’s team a new look in his second term. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Panetta and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are departing, and in addition to LaHood, the heads of the Interior and Labor departments also have announced their resignations.
Obama has nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to serve as defense secretary to succeed Panetta.
Possible replacements for LaHood include Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has pushed for increased rail service in Los Angeles and served as chairman of last year’s Democratic National Convention, and Debbie Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. The name of former Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, who led the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has also been mentioned.
LaHood served seven terms in Congress representing a central Illinois district that includes his hometown of Peoria, Ill., before he was chosen by Obama for the post. He traveled widely, visiting 49 states, 210 cities and 18 countries promoting Obama’s agenda. He made trips that allowed him to ride some of the world’s fastest trains and inspect the latest vehicles at auto shows.
In Washington, he would occasionally don a bicycle helmet and pedal around the District to promote bike lanes.
At the start of the new administration, LaHood spearheaded efforts to stimulate the economy through transportation construction projects and promoted the administration’s vision of a nation connected by high-speed trains. But the high-speed rail program, which was supposed to be one of the president’s signature projects, has been on life-support since Republicans regained control of the House in the 2010 election.
LaHood was the administration’s chief advocate for greater spending to repair and improve the nation’s aging transportation network. But his impact was limited by the administration’s refusal to back an increase in the federal gas tax or an alternative long-term funding scheme. Congress last year agreed on a plan that delays for two years decisions on how the nation will pay for highway and transit programs while giving states more flexibility in how they spend federal money.