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Will Jack Lew be second time lucky?

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By Al Kamen
Friday, July 16, 2010

If confirmed for a second tour as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jack Lew will join a very small group of officials who have held the same senior agency position in two administrations. And the history of second acts, in politics as in other endeavors, doesn't necessarily augur well.

It's true, in the film world, that despite a break of 12 years, Arnold Schwarzenegger did pretty well in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." But critics noted the evident passage of time when Harrison Ford reprised his role as Indiana Jones 19 years after starring in what probably should have been "The Last Crusade."

In the sports world, boxers often try to return to the ring -- usually with very bad results. Michael Jordan's tenure with the Washington Wizards was disastrous, largely because it was in a very different time and with a very different set of teammates -- kinda like what Lew, who left the OMB in 2001 with the federal budget running huge surpluses, is going to find.

A fair number of people have held different Cabinet jobs in different administrations. Norman Y. Mineta was secretary of commerce in Bill Clinton's administration and ran the Transportation Department for George W. Bush. George Shultz was, among other things, secretary of the Treasury in Richard Nixon's administration and secretary of state under Ronald Reagan.

But an informal survey of veterans of recent administrations unearthed -- after much head-scratching -- only one other person in the past 30-some years, Donald Rumsfeld, who held precisely the same Senate-confirmed job in two different administrations. He was secretary of defense in the Gerald Ford administration and came back to that job for Bush II. Some folks might say the return engagement didn't work out all that well, what with that Iraq thing and all.

A somewhat larger group of Washington hands have held senior White House jobs in different administrations. For example, James A. Baker III was White House chief of staff in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses. (He was also Reagan's Treasury secretary and Bush I's secretary of state.) The second act as Bush White House chief of staff was maybe not quite as smooth as the first.

Lloyd Cutler was Carter's White House counsel and returned as Clinton's. Fred Fielding was Reagan's White House counsel and returned as Bush II's -- and that Easter Bunny outfit he had to wear at the annual White House egg roll was a lot stinkier than it had been.

Nick Calio was White House legislative director for both Bushes. David Gergen was communications director for Ford and Reagan and, in effect, held the same job for Clinton.

As Reagan Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein observed: "In Washington, you can have a second act -- but you don't get a do-over."

After Lew, who?

Speaking of Lew, his likely job switch sparked an immediate guessing game about a replacement for him at the State Department. Since President Obama moved to rip him away from his job as one of Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton's two deputies -- over her intense objections -- the sense we're getting is that she gets her pick of most anyone she wants. (Okay, maybe not our old colleague Sidney Blumenthal, but just about anyone else.)

Given that assumption, the early speculation was that Clinton would tap Wendy Sherman, former director of Emily's List and assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs and later counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She was a foreign policy adviser to Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign. She works at the Albright Group.

Sherman's clearly the favorite for the job, but we seem to recall this was the same position she turned down when it was offered to her the first time around, after the election. She is said to have preferred to be the No. 1 deputy -- the job now held by Jim Steinberg -- which is more policy-intensive. Or she would have accepted deputy national security adviser.


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