An old classmate in a key role

White House Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu talks about being an Asian-American in the White House and his relationship with President Obama.
Lois Romano
Thursday, October 22, 2009

After four years as Barack Obama's legislative director in the Senate, Chris Lu knows the president's preferences and record as well as anyone -- which puts him in the perfect job these days. He's the Cabinet secretary -- a title that belies an intense assignment as chief intermediary between the White House and the federal agencies, dealing with matters small (getting Easter Egg Roll tickets for Cabinet members) and large (mediating turf wars).

On a daily basis, his job is not only to convey the president's views and expectations to all the department heads and keep them on message, but also to help them resolve their issues with the White House.

"I like to think of myself as an honest broker," he says.

Lu was born in New Jersey but grew up in Rockville, where he graduated from Thomas S. Wootton High School. He's known Obama since they attended Harvard Law School together, but they cemented their friendship when Obama hired him in 2004 for his Senate staff.

The son of Chinese immigrants, Lu is one of the highest-ranking Asian Americans in the administration. The 43-year-old first didn't foot on Chinese soil until this July, as part of an official White House mission on climate change.

"It was incredible," he says. "To get to go to China on your first trip as part of an official delegation was just really -- I mean it -- I was speechless."

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