More diversity among Obama's latest Cabinet nominees

President Barack Obama arrives for an event announcing the nominations of (L-R) MIT professor Ernest Moniz as Energy Secretary, Gina McCarthy, to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his budget chief, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House March 4, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Win McNamee / Getty Images

President Obama today named two women to fill openings as his budget director and Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) chief, potentially quelling criticism about the lack of diversity among his Cabinet nominations.

At a White House ceremony, he announced he was nominating Sylvia Burwell to head the Office of Management and Budget, Gina McCarthy to run the EPA and Ernest Moniz to be Energy Secretary and pointed out that Burwell's appointment comes as the $85 billion in sequester cuts kick in.

"Eventually, a lot of people are going to feel some pain, that's why we have to continue working to reduce our deficit in a balanced way," the president said.  "I'm confident that we can get there if people of good will come together."

The diversity represented in today's picks stands in contrast to just a couple of months ago when, in January, criticism bubbled up from all corners, including from his fellow Democrats, after naming several white men to his Cabinet following the departure of three high-profile women.

"I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they've seen all my appointments, who is in the White House staff and who is in my Cabinet, before they rush to judgment," Mr. Obama said in a White House news conference on January 14. "Until you've seen what my overall team looks like, it's premature to assume that somehow we're going backwards. We're not going backwards, we're going forward."

Some congressional Democrats publicly asked the president to add more diversity to his Cabinet after the departure of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Meantime, today's nominations also signal that the White House is trying to get back to normal business after the president and Congress failed to avert the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that started taking effect Friday. While the president has warned of dire consequences for the economy as a result of the cuts, the White House does not want the standoff with Congress to keep the president from focusing on other second term priorities, including filling out his Cabinet, as well as pursuing stricter gun laws and an overhaul of the nation's immigration system.

Burwell is a Washington veteran, having served as OMB's deputy director in the Clinton administration and chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. She currently runs the Wal-Mart Foundation, the retail giant's philanthropic wing, and previously served as president of the Gates Foundation's Global Development Program.

A White House official credited Burwell with being a principal architect of a series of budget plans in the 1990s that led to a budget surplus.  Burwell would replace Jack Lew, who was just confirmed as Treasury Secretary last week.

McCarthy is currently the assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation and previously served as a top environmental official in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  She would replace Lisa Jackson, who stepped down last month.

Moniz is a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and previously served under President Clinton as an Energy Department undersecretary from 1997-2001 and as Mr. Clinton's Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1995-1997.  He would replace Steven Chu, who will return to Stanford University to teach physics.

Mr. Obama made quick work of filling key national security openings in his administration, but has been slower to fill other Cabinet-level openings, including the OMB post.

Administration officials have blamed the slow pace of nominations on the arduous Senate confirmation process, which requires job candidate to submit to an intense and lengthy vetting process.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.