Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced Friday she will resign in early September to become president of the University of California system.
President Barack Obama will now have to appoint a nominee to replace Napolitano, a wrinkle that could impact the high-stakes fight between Senate Democrats and Republicans over whether to change the rules of the upper chamber and weaken the filibuster.
Over the past week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has threatened to use the so-called "nuclear option" to weaken the filibuster, a procedural move traditionally used by the minority party to block nominees and legislation.
If Reid used the nuclear option, the new Homeland Security secretary would be the first major replacement under the new rules.
The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who has fiercely opposed Reid’s maneuver, said such a change would allow the new DHS head to sail through the confirmation process with little opposition.
"If Democrats actually do the nuclear option, it would reduce the confirmation process to one party rule," a McConnell spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon. "President Obama could install controversial nominees with a complicit Democrat majority and no real input from the opposition. The selection of her replacement could be the first test of a scaled back check on the president's power."
At least one option has already been proposed to replace the outgoing Napolitano.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) personally called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to suggest New York City Police Department commissioner Ray Kelly for the position, according to a report by the New York Observer.
"The Department of Homeland Security is one of the most important agencies in the federal government," Schumer said in a statement. "It’s leader needs to be someone who knows law enforcement, understands anti-terrorism efforts, and is a top-notch administrator, and at the NYPD, Ray Kelly has proven that he excels in all three."
A potential Kelly nomination would likely infuriate progressives and civil libertarians who have opposed the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, as well as its surveillance of Muslims.
Kelly’s NYPD has also been notable for its lack of transparency.
Reid said Thursday on the floor of the Senate that the current rules allow intransigent Republicans to subject judicial nominees to "unprecedented obstruction."
However, McConnell said changing the rules would destroy the Senate.
"My friend the majority leader is going to be remembered as the worst leader in the Senate ever," McConnell said Thursday from the floor. "It makes me sad."