President Barack Obama nominated White House chief of staff Jack Lew to be treasury secretary Thursday, declaring his complete trust in an aide with three decades of Washington experience in economic policy and a penchant for shunning the limelight.
“He is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras,” Obama said.
Obama announced his nomination in the ornate White House East Room, flanked by Lew and outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The two men and their backgrounds illustrate the nation’s changing economic landscape. Geithner is a longtime banking specialist with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve who took office in 2009 at the height of the nation’s financial crisis. Lew has been a budget wonk as the government struggled with its debt and deficit challenges.
President Obama heaped praise on Geithner for addressing the Wall Street meltdown and shepherding an overhaul of financial regulations through Congress.
“When the history books are written, Tim Geithner is going to go down as one of our finest secretaries of the treasury.”
The president highlighted Lew’s past work on economic policy, from his days in the 1980s as an aide to then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill to his work on the budget with President Bill Clinton.
Obama also took time to rib Lew for his loopy signature, a distended Slinky-like scrawl that captured media attention Wednesday, joking that when he became aware of it he considered “rescinding my offer to appoint him.”
If confirmed as treasury secretary, Lew’s signature will appear on U.S. currency:
A year ago, almost to the day, the president selected Lew as his chief of staff, taking him from his job as director of the Office of Management and Budget into the White House inner circle.
In selecting Lew to replace Geithner, President Obama picked an insider steeped in budget matters.
If confirmed, Lew would assume the post in time for the administration to tangle anew with Republicans over a confluence of three looming fiscal deadlines — raising the $16.4 trillion federal borrowing limit, averting automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs, and the expiration of a congressional resolution that has been keeping the government operating. Those three events, if unresolved, would have a far greater negative effect on the economy than the “fiscal cliff” that the White House and Congress “avoided” a week ago.
Lew, 57, has often been described as a “pragmatic liberal” who “understands what it takes to make a deal even as he stands by his ideological views.”
One senior Republican senator, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, voiced opposition to Lew. But while Lew may face a tough confirmation in the Senate, he’s not likely to encounter the type of stiff opposition that is already mounting against former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican whom Obama has tapped to be his defense secretary.
“We need a secretary of treasury that the American people, the Congress and the world will know is up to the task of getting America on the path to prosperity. not the path to decline,” said Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “Jack Lew is not that man.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this story. Front page photo courtesy Getty Images