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Jack Lew: The Man Who Cannot Say Yes to Republicans

Jack Lew: The Man Who Cannot Say Yes to Republicans

Jack Lew, current White House Chief of Staff and reportedly President Barack Obama’s choice for Secretary of the Treasury in his second term, so irritated congressional Republicans during debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 that Speaker of the House John Boehner personally asked Obama to exclude Lew from the talks.

As Bob Woodward reported in his book, The Price of Politics (236-7):

On the morning of Friday, July 15, Boehner, called the president to follow through….Would the president send [Treasury Secretary Tim] Geithner and [Chief of Staff Bill] Daley up to the Capitol?

And, Mr. President, the speaker added, please don’t send Jack Lew. The budget director talked too much, was uncompromising, and Boehner’s staff did not believe he could get to yes.

In an interview a year later, Boehner still had strong feelings about Lew. “Jack Lew said no 999,000 times out of a million,” Boehner said, chuckling. Then he corrected himself. “999,999. It was unbelievable. At one point I told the president, keep him out of here. I don’t need somebody who just knows how to say no.”

Lew also frequently condescended to Republicans during the negotiations, Woodward writes, by arguing that they should acquiesce in Obama’s policies because his positions were better for them, politically.

Obama’s apparent decision to choose Lew on the eve of renewed negotiations on the debt ceiling, when he knows how toxic Lew was to negotiations last time, is a clear sign that he intends to drive a hard bargain with Republicans and that he is even less interested in compromise than he was during his first term.

Lew’s chief qualification is his tenure as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. He lacks the finance, economic, or business resumé of recent predecessors.


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