WASHINGTON - President Obama today announced he was nominating his chief of staff, Jacob L. Lew, to be his new treasury secretary, assigning one of the top Cabinet roles to a longtime budget chief and former adviser to the late House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.
Lew, who would replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is resigning, has served a number of roles in government over his three-decade career, including twice serving as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
“One reason Jack has been so effective in this town is because he is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras,” the president said during his White House announcement. “And over the years, he’s built a reputation as a master of policy who can work with members of both parties and forge principled compromises.”
Obama also remarked about another quirk of Lew’s that is gaining new prominence: his signature, which will soon be on all newly-printed currency if he is confirmed as treasury secretary, consists of a series of scrawled loops.
“I had never noticed Jack’s signature,” Obama said. “And when this was highlighted yesterday in the press, I considered rescinding my offer to appoint him.
The president added to laughter: “Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency.”
Lew got an early start in government working in the mid-1970s as a legislative aide to Representative Joe Moakley, the Massachusetts Democrat. After graduating from Harvard, Lew worked as deputy director of the Office of Program Analysis in Boston’s budget office.
Then he went to work for O’Neill, where he spent the next eight years, first as a domestic policy advisor and later as executive director of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
“I grew up professional in the office of Speaker O’Neill, whose compass was always clear and who demanded unvarnished advice on how best to reach the desired destination,” Lew said at today’s ceremony. “Mr. O’Neill cared little about your age or rank, and only about whether or not you did the hard work to inform the decisions of the day. And he took a big chance giving a lot of responsibility to a very young man, and for that I’ll always be thankful.”
Lew’s confirmation will now go before the Senate, where some opposition is beginning to form. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, criticized Lew’s time working as a hedge fund manager at Citigroup.
“As a supporter of the president, I remain extremely concerned that virtually all of his key economic advisers have come from Wall Street,” Sanders said in a statement. “In my view, we need a treasury secretary who is prepared to stand up to corporate America and their powerful lobbyists and fight for policies that protect the working families in our country. I do not believe Mr. Lew is that person.”Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mviser.