JONATHAN COHN JULY 13, 2010
The White House just announced that President Obama will appoint Jacob "Jack" Lew to be his next budget director. Lew emerged as a front-runner relatively late in the process. But Lew comes with strong credentials, as I explained on Monday:
Who’s Jack Lew? He’s a top adviser to Hillary Clinton at the State Department, where he's deputy secretary for management and resources. Before that, he was chief of operations at New York University and then chief operating officer at Citi Alternative Investments. He also served in the Clinton Administration, as director of OMB.
Yes, that’s the same job for which he’s now under consideration.
Lew's politics aren't immediately apparent, at least to me, except that he's a lifelong Democrat who, at 12, campaigned for Eugene McCarthy and, at 23, started working for legendary House Speaker Tip O'Neill. Also, during his stint at OMB, Lew reportedly fought to reinstate welfare benefits for legal immigrants.
But if you read the clips or talk to Democratic Party insiders, you’ll learn that Lew is popular, even with some Republicans. Colleagues, present and former, praise his smarts, work ethic, and selflessness. They say he’s the kind of person who cares more about getting things done than getting credit for them, a quality the president is said to value very highly. (Orszag’s near-celebrity status didn’t always sit well with colleagues, although I have no idea whether the president himself cared.)
Another plus, from the administration’s standpoint, could be that the Senate approved Lew’s State Department appointment quickly last year. If Obama taps him for OMB, Senate Republicans would look like hypocrites for making a fuss now--although, lord knows, hypocrisy has never stopped Republicans from opposing Obama before. Lew's experience with Citi could, certainly, give them such an opportunity.
Since that item ran, I've heard only good things about Lew. "I think the world of him," says one senior Hill staffer who has dealt with him. "He is very low key--the ultimate loyal staff player. Very smart. Progressive."
One question that remains is whether Lew will be a force in policy discussions--i.e., the kind of adviser who will bring strong beliefs about policy and assert them during internal debates. Peter Orszag, who is stepping down as budget director. had that kind of influence.
Update: Joshua Green of the Atlantic has some good reporting on the backstory to the nomination.