“I start from a position of being extraordinarily skeptical that his background is appropriate for the role of the head of the Fed,” he told Bloomberg News.
Merkley added, “If you nominate someone who is a life-committed deregulator to be in a regulatory position, and if you believe regulation is necessary to prevent fraud, abuse, manipulation and so forth, then there’s a lot of questions to be asked: Why is this person appropriate?”
Despite the lack of audible support, Jim Messina, a former deputy White House chief of staff, said Summers would have strong backing among Democrats. “There are lots of people like me that believe Larry would be a great pick,” he said.
Although Summers’s position on financial regulation has caused the most concern among critics, his views on other questions of economic policy have also diminished his standing among liberals in Congress.
In particular, Summers was among the figures on Obama’s team who were skeptical of both government investments in the manufacturing industry and taking a more confrontational approach with China over allegations that the country gave its manufacturing companies an unfair leg up in global trade.
In an interview last year, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) recalled how Summers dismissed calls for more investment in manufacturing when he was Obama’s economic adviser.
“He sat in my office one day and said we don’t want to pick winners and losers,” Brown said. “I said we picked finance in this country for 30 years and I just want a level playing field.”
Brown, who circulated the Senate letter supporting Yellen for Fed chairman, said Obama began to pursue a more robust manufacturing policy only after Summers and other skeptical officials left the White House. “The people who have replaced them are more interested in manufacturing than those who left,” he said.
On Wednesday, Brown said Summers’s past positions “have not been right,” but he said that Democrats’ support for Yellen is primarily a tribute to her, not a reflection on Summers.
“I know him personally,” Brown said. “I just think Janet Yellen would be a better Fed chair.”
Ed O’Keefe, Paul Kane, David Nakamura and Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.