Transportation Secretary LaHood to leave post

Washington  – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the lone Republican in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, announced Tuesday that he’s leaving the administration for the president’s second term.

The departure of LaHood is the latest of several changes in Obama’s administration since the president won re-election in November. He’s at least the sixth Cabinet official to say he is leaving as Obama begins his next four years in office.

LaHood, 67, was named transportation secretary in January 2009. Before that, he served seven terms in the U.S. House as a representative from Illinois. He said in a statement Tuesday he would remain in his role until a successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“I’ve told President Obama, and I’ve told many of you, that this is the best job I’ve ever had. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work with all of you and I’m confident that DOT will continue to achieve great things in the future,” LaHood wrote.

When he first took the Transportation post in 2009, LaHood was one of two Republicans in Obama’s Cabinet, along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under George W. Bush and remained in his role when Obama took office. He left the administration in 2011.

Chuck Hagel, a former senator from Nebraska, would become the only Republican member of Obama’s Cabinet if he’s confirmed by the Senate.

Other roles – including the secretaries of labor, interior, and commerce – also need to be filled for Obama’s second term.

Sources familiar with the process have previously told CNN that former Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland were being considered for the open jobs.

Obama said Tuesday that LaHood and he were “drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent.”

“Ray has never wavered in that belief,” the president said.

In his statement Tuesday, LaHood touted his achievements on transportation safety, pointing to his Distracted Driver Initiative and new regulations combating airplane pilot fatigue. LaHood’s transportation department also pushed through new fines on airlines that left passengers stuck in planes parked on tarmacs, which resulted in those types of delays diminishing.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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