Six facts you need to know about Jack Lew

January 9, 2013

1. Jack Lew's college adviser was ... Paul Wellstone


Paul Wellstone worked with Lew in college and helped him get his first job in Washington. (Jim Mone/AP)

Lew was a politico from an early age, volunteering for Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential run at age 12 and working in local Democratic politics through high school. He then went to Carleton College in Minnesota, where his adviser was future U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. Wellstone got him an internship working for Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), and Lew's political career was born.

2. Lew's reputation was made in the office of House Speaker Tip O'Neill, alongside ... Chris Matthews


Tip O'Neill's office is where Lew became a budget expert -- and friends with Chris Matthews. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

In 1979, Lew's roommate and friend Ari Weiss helped him get a job as a policy staffer for the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. He would serve eight years with O'Neill, only leaving when the speaker retired in 1987, and playing a key role in O'Neill's negotiations with the Reagan administrations. Most notably, he participated in the 1983 talks that culminated in a deal to shore up Social Security's finances.

One of Lew's closest colleagues during that time was Chris Matthews, who after a stint as a speechwriter for the Carter White House (along with fellow journalists James Fallows, Hendrik Hertzberg, and Charles Krauthammer) joined O'Neill's office in 1981 and left with Lew and O'Neill in 1987.

3. He worked in the worst part of the finance industry


Lew spent some time on Wall Street, and not in a particularly virtuous part of it. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In 2008, during a short leave from politics, Jack Lew was working at Citigroup as chief operating officer of the Alternative Investments unit, a $54 billion hedge fund and private equity operation that made some big bets against the housing market. Lew's defenders argue that as COO, his role was primarily administrative, and he didn't make decisions about where or what to trade. The AI unit is the precise sort of operation that the Volcker rule should, if properly implemented, render illegal.

4. Republicans hate him

No, you blink first. (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)
No, you blink first. (Jewel Samad /AFP/Getty Images)

There was a time when Republicans liked Jack Lew. That time is no longer. During the 2011 budget negotiations, Republicans found Lew condescending, inflexible and a bit sneaky. He often seemed to be trying to trick them into agreeing to complicated policies that ultimately redounded to the administration's benefits. According to Bob Woodward, the Republicans eventually sent the White House a message: "Please don't send Jack Lew. The budget director talked too much, was uncompromising, and Boehner's staff did not believe he could get to yes." Or, as Boehner put it, "At one point I told the president, keep him out of here. I don't need somebody who just knows how to say no."

The White House saw the friction differently. “There’s not a condescending bone in Jack’s body,” Kenneth Baer, a former senior adviser to Lew and associate director of OMB, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “This is a monumental case of sour grapes. Those on the other side of the negotiating table from Jack recently probably felt that he was standing up for the president’s agenda and knows his stuff. He’d go through what details mean—why they matter—and I don’t think the folks on the other side of the table were prepared for that. Either they didn’t care about the effects or didn’t want to know about them.”

Either way, Boehner and Lew are not BFFs.

5. Lew went to the mat for Medicaid


In 2011, Lew was steadfast in protecting health coverage for the poor. (Pete Souza/The White House)

Late in the 2011 budget talks, Mitch McConnell's staff demanded that Medicaid be put on the table for cuts. As Politico reports what happened next, "Gene Sperling, chairman of Obama’s National Economic Council, was in mid-sentence, trying to calmly explain why the White House wouldn’t allow that, when Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew interrupted. 'No!' the typically mild-mannered Lew yelled. 'The answer is simply no! No, no!'”

6. He still lives in the Bronx


The East River, the Brooklyn Bridge and the lower Manhattan skyline, pictured in 2010. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Despite spending most of his working life in D.C., Lew doesn't actually live here. On the weekends, he heads home to New York, where he lives in Riverdale, an upscale neighborhood in the Bronx.

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