The nomination is subject to confirmation by the Senate, where many Republicans say they found Lew to be uncompromising during negotiations over the budget in 2011. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has complained bitterly about him, while a GOP congressional aide said Wednesday that Lew “is more interested in convincing Republicans of the wisdom of his position than seeking common ground.”
But despite the criticism, there was no groundswell of opposition to him Wednesday, and there did not appear to be any significant barriers to a relatively seamless confirmation.
Lew’s supporters note that he has been successfully forging bipartisan budget deals for decades — including, in the 1990s, when he helped craft an agreement that led to surpluses for three years.
“Jack Lew’s record has and continues to be stellar,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday. “He is that rare person in Washington who has been here for years, who has done some very hard things and brokered some serious bipartisan agreements and done it in a way that has earned the admiration of those he has worked with.”
Although Lew’s immediate tasks would be fiscal, he also would have to confront a broader range of challenges, some outside his area of expertise.
He would be the administration's leading spokesman for the economy, at a time when unemployment remains stubbornly high and there is little talk about how to create jobs. After the election, Obama made proposals to do so — including spending more to rebuild roads and bridges and extending a payroll tax cut that had been boosting incomes — but they quickly disappeared in the face of GOP opposition.
As Treasury secretary, Lew also would oversee a council of the nation’s financial regulators charged with flagging risks to the economy and overseeing the issuance of rules governing financial markets. He would have a hand in devising a new system for financing mortgages, which has been the purview of the federal government since the financial crisis exploded in 2008.
Overseas, he would play in role in trying to help Europe’s economy emerge from a financial crisis that has buffeted it for more than two years. He would be a key participant in efforts to manage relations with China, India and other emerging economic powers, and he would oversee the enforcement of laws to prevent terrorists from accessing the global financial system.
“Jack’s a great choice,” said Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary and top Obama economic adviser. “Few Treasury secretaries have had as much experience at as high a level of economic policy as Jack Lew, and there are none who have established a greater reputation for thoughtfulness, trustworthiness and decency.”
By nominating Lew, Obama is in line to choose a new chief of staff. Denis McDonough, a deputy national security adviser, is among the leading candidates, as is Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Biden.
Lew’s nomination is the latest as Obama rounds out his second-term team. This week, he nominated former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as his next defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan as CIA director. The president must fill several other Cabinet-level jobs, including commerce secretary and budget director.
Lew was not part of Obama’s inner circle when he joined the administration, first as the No. 2 official in the State Department, where he managed day-to-day operations and also was responsible for international economic policy. But he became increasingly central to the White House’s activities. “He has the supreme confidence of the president,” said Roger Altman, an investment banker who was deputy Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton.
Lew, a native of New York, graduated from Harvard College and Georgetown’s law school. He was a senior official at New York University and a top executive at Citigroup during the George W. Bush administration.
He took up the budget director post in 2010, replacing Peter Orszag, and then took over for William Daley as chief of staff last January.