The old colleagues compared notes on what reporters were asking about Summers, who was under a steady assault from liberals who consider him as soft on regulating banks, and mapped out how they might respond.
President Obama’s long-term advisers have been working to help Summers in what has become the hottest political campaign of 2013: the race to succeed Ben S. Bernanke as Fed chairman.
Rarely has the appointment of a new Fed chairman been accompanied by so much commotion, penetrating even the political dead zone of mid-August. “I wouldn’t want Larry Summers to mow my yard,” Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) told an audience in his state this week, becoming the first Republican to announce that he would oppose a nomination of the former Treasury secretary.
The fight pits allies of Summers, who also was Obama’s top economic adviser during the darkest days of the recession, against those of rival candidate Janet Yellen, the Fed vice chairman who has been an architect of the bank’s effort to reduce unemployment rates.
The opposing camps have waged high-profile media campaigns, featuring dueling
op-eds in the nation’s top newspapers, interviews defending their candidates and comments on social media. But the battle also has played out behind the scenes.
As Geithner has helped Summers navigate the uproar this summer, he also has been consulted by the president on whom the next Fed chairman should be, said a person familiar with the matter. Longtime advisers to Obama such as Jim Messina and Stephanie Cutter, now in the private sector and more skilled in the world of politics and media than Summers, offered to lend a hand to their former colleague.
Meanwhile, allies of Yellen publicized her attributes in the media while privately lobbying on her behalf — often without much success.
Christina Romer, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and a top advocate for Yellen, encouraged her former colleagues in the White House for months to introduce Yellen to a wider range of Obama aides, said a person familiar with the matter.
But little came of it. Logs showed that Yellen visited the White House only once over the past 21
2 years, compared with 15 times by Summers. (The most recent months have not been updated.)
“There is a natural tendency to want to hire people you know and trust. But good personnel practices say you need to make sure there is a wide range of people you know and trust,” Romer said. “They should have been working hard to get to know a number of possible candidates, including Janet Yellen.”
While the dueling efforts have come to resemble political campaigns, Fed mania didn’t start that way. Neither Summers nor Yellen was in favor of any organized effort to help them win the job. And although insiders on both sides say Summers has an edge in Obama’s thinking, the president has said he is considering various candidates and won’t decide until the fall.