Who is Jack Lew?

President Obama plans to nominate his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to be  the next Treasury Secretary. Compared to two of Obama’s most recent Cabinet nominations – Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for Secretary of State and former senator Chuck Hagel (R) for Secretary of Defense – Lew’s isn’t as well known outside Washington.

While he's maintained a low national profile, Lew is an experienced policy hand with years of Washington experience, including two stints as White House budget director under his belt.

Below is closer look at the life and career of Obama's choice to head the Treasury Department.

Born in New York City in 1955, Lew, 57, spent his early years thinking he would become a journalist, as National Journal recently noted in a lengthy profile:

He attended public schools in Queens, where he has said he sported long hair and wore boots and ripped jeans. He wrote for his high school paper and thought he would crusade against the world’s injustice by becoming a journalist, as he recounted in a 2011 speech at his alma mater, Forest Hills High School. Instead, he caught the political bug early on and landed in government.

He went on to attend Carleton College in Minnesota for a year before transferring to Harvard University. Notably, Lew’s faculty adviser at Carleton was Paul Wellstone, the late Minnesota senator and liberal icon, a 2011 Politico profile notes. After Harvard, Lew went to Georgetown University, where he received a law degree.

Lew’s career in Washington began in 1973. He spent eight years as principal domestic policy adviser to the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts. Lew was the speaker’s “liaison to the Greenspan Commission, which negotiated a bipartisan solution to reform Social Security in 1983 and was responsible for domestic and economic issues, including Medicare, budget, tax, trade, appropriations, and energy issues,” according to his White House biography.

Obama’s choice of Hagel for the top Pentagon job has prompted pushback from some Senate Republicans, while criticism over the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya prompted U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to withdraw from consideration as secretary of state. It remains to be seen how much opposition Lew’s nomination will face, as it comes as Congress is gearing up for a new round of fiscal tussling over the debt ceiling and sequestration. But he has this working in his favor: He’s already been confirmed by the Senate before for the position of White House budget director.

His first stint as budget director came under President Clinton. He was  director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1998 until 2001.

Lew worked for Citigroup and New York University after leaving the Clinton administration. He returned to government service in the Obama administration, first as deputy secretary of state for management and resources, then in a second stint as OMB director in late 2010. He succeeded Bill Daley as White House chief of staff in early 2012.

Lew, who has two grown children with his wife and is an Orthodox Jew, doesn’t divulge much about his personal life.

One fun fact about Lew: His signature has been the source of considerable buzz. The virtually illegible series of loops has brought him some widespread attention, even beyond the realm of Washington politics.

And if he is confirmed by the Senate to head the Treasury Department, that signature, as New York Magazine notes, will appear on U.S. currency. Maybe Lew will make it more legible, as current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner did with his own hard-to-read signature.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Aaron Blake · January 9, 2013