Obama thanked Sunstein, whom he met on the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School, for balancing the costs of regulations with their benefits. White House officials also lauded Sunstein’s efforts to weed out or streamline old rules. They said he had saved at least $10 billion and millions of hours of paperwork.
“Cass has shown that it is possible to support economic growth without sacrificing health, safety, and the environment,” Obama said in a written statement.
Sunstein heads a relatively obscure agency, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which acts as a gatekeeper for new federal regulations.
In Washington’s wonkier circles, he also has become a symbol of a central contradiction of Obama’s White House. In seeking bipartisan common ground, the administration has often embraced policies that disappointed its friends — without disarming its enemies.
On Friday, this came from a supporter of Obama’s views on the environment:
“It’s a glorious day,” said Frank O’Donnell, of the group Clean Air Watch. “Sunstein has been a blot on the landscape.”
And from an Obama adversary:
“The Chamber has enjoyed a good working relationship with Cass Sunstein and we wish him well in his return to Harvard Law,” said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Despite its happiness with Sunstein, the agency has spent millions of dollars attacking the president's policies.
Sunstein is married to National Security Council senior director Samantha Power, who recently gave birth to their second child.
His departure comes at an awkward time, three months before the presidential election. Senior administration officials said Sunstein is leaving in large part because of his expanding family obligations, and because of new, broader opportunities offered to him at Harvard. Power will stay in her post when she returns from leave later this summer.
Boris Bershteyn, the budget office’s general counsel, will replace Sunstein as acting director. A White House spokeman said Sunstein was not available for comment Friday.
Scholars who study Obama say that Sunstein had a major influence on Obama’s view of government — stressing pragmatism over ideology.
Sunstein’s work emphasizes the importance of consensus, social equality and broad political participation in American democracy. These themes are often echoed in Obama’s speeches.
Also, as a member of the Harvard Law Review editorial board in 1989, Obama helped oversee the publication of one of Sunstein’s most important essays. Titled “Interpreting Statutes in the Regulatory State,” it argued that regulations are always open to interpretation based on “culture and context.”