Saturday, May 25, 2024

Frum Chief of Staff For Obama

President Obama announced Monday that his chief of staff, veteran Chicago Democrat William Daley, is stepping down at the end of this month. He will be replaced by Jack Lew, a Shomer Shabbos Jew who has previously served as White House budget director in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. He was working as an Assistant Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton when he was tapped by Obama to replace Daley. Lew was congratulated on the appointment by Agudath Israel and the Orthodox Union. He has been an active member of two Orthodox shuls over the past decade, Congregation Beth Sholom in Potomac, Maryland, and the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx, New York. He and his wife, who have two grown children, maintain homes in Riverdale and the Washington, DC area.

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs, said, “Jack Lew is a person of great skill and intellect. He is an extraordinarily hard worker with a firm grasp of both policy and politics. He is a true public servant.


“To the Jewish community, Jack has always been receptive and helpful. We wish him much success in his new role and look forward to continue working with him on issues facing our community and country.”


The Orthodox Union’s Managing Director Rabbi Steven Burg and Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament issued a joint statement saying, “our community takes great pride in the appointment of the first member of our community to this position of great responsibility. We wish Mr. Lew a hearty ‘Mazal Tov’ on his historic appointment and best wishes in his new role in serving the president and people of the United States.”


Lew is the third Jew to hold the White House Chief of Staff job during the past six years. President George W. Bush appointed Josh Bolton to the post in 2006, who remained at the position for the rest of Bush’s term in the White House. Then Obama, at the beginning of his term, appointed Rahm Emanuel to the post. Emanuel resigned in October, 2010 to run successfully for Mayor of Chicago, succeeding Richard M. Daley, William Daley’s brother. Emanuel and his family live on the North Side of Chicago, and belong to Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, a Modern Orthodox shul.




Lew, 56, began his Washington career in the 1973 and starting in 1979, worked for 8 years as the principle domestic policy advisor to then House Speaker Tip O’Neill. He is credited with having influenced the 1983 deal between O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan to reform Social Security. He was President Clinton’s budget director from 1998-2000, prompting President Obama to praise him as the “only budget director in history to preside over budget surpluses for three consecutive years.


“Over the past year he has helped strengthen our economy and streamline the government at a time when we need to do everything we can to keep our recovery going,” Obama said. He added that, Lew is taking “one of the most difficult jobs in Washington. But Jack has had one of the other most difficult jobs in Washington. Jack’s economic advice has been invaluable and he has my complete trust, both because of his mastery of the numbers and because of the values behind those numbers.”


Lew will finish his current assignment, drafting Obama’s 2013 budget, before taking over Daley’s job.


Lew is known to his colleagues in Washington as a pragmatic Democrat. He has liberal ideas about the role of government but also understands the necessity to reach bipartisan solutions to the nation’s economic problems.


Lew is also known for being very patient and cool under pressure. He is widely respected on both sides of the political aisle. Former Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who worked with Lew on appropriations and budget matters, called him a “solid choice. He’s a very professional guy, he’s a straight shooter, he’s obviously partisan, but he knows his stuff. He always told you what he thought. He was very straightforward. He has a lot of credibility on the Hill.” Other Republicans said that he is seen as “less liberal” than Obama’s other top advisors.




Lew is particularly close to Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Charles Schumer of New York. Reid reacted to the appointment by praising Lew as “a consummate professional with intimate knowledge of Congress” who is “uniquely qualified to handle this challenging job.”


Lew was raised in Forest Hills, NY. He graduated from Harvard and holds a law degree from Georgetown University. He was a partner in a law firm for five years, and also worked as Executive Director of the Center for Middle East Research, Issues Director for the Democratic National Committee’s Campaign 88, and Deputy Director of the Office of Program Analysis in the city of Boston’s Office of Management and Budget. He returned to New York from Washington during the eight years of the Bush administration to work as executive vice president of New York University and then as chief operating officer of a unit of Citigroup.




Although Daley and Obama are both from Chicago, they were not part of the same Democrat power factions while in that city. Daley was originally brought in to serve as Obama’s chief of staff in the aftermath of the Republican victory in the 2010 midterm election. The administration’s thinking at the time was that Daley’s business contacts would help Obama win back the trust of business leaders, and that his moderate and pragmatic political approach would make it easier for him to work with House Republicans.


Daley launched his stint as Obama’s chief of staff by writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal promising that the White House would institute a pro-business regulatory reform. That never happened. To compound that, Obama has adopted a liberal, class warfare re-election strategy that demonizes American business leaders, so Daley’s Chamber of Commerce roots are badly out of step with the new White House political agenda.


According to a column on the Politico web site by Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity, a pro-Tea Party conservative group, “the Daley departure marks the end of Obama’s attempt to look pro-business. . . Now, Obama will return to his comfort zone as a far left demagogue stoking class envy and playing to his ideologically motivated left-wing base.”




Daley’s last post in Washington was as Secretary of Commerce during Bill Clinton’s second term. He had been out of Washington since 2000, and once back at the White House, he was never able to gain traction with both Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress.


The turning point for Daley as chief of staff came last summer when a White House attempt he supported, to reach a grand bargain on spending and taxes with House Speaker John Boehner, failed due to Obama’s insistence on raising taxes on the wealthy. Even though it was not his fault, Daley got blamed for the crisis over the raising of the federal debt ceiling. The standoff resulted in a painful political defeat for which Obama’s inner circle held Daley responsible.


Daley’s more formal management style was also resented by some lower level administration staffers who felt he shut them out of the decision-making process.


Daley did not get on well with Senate Majority Leader Reid, who resented the chief of staff for sometimes criticizing the partisanship of Democrats in Congress for some of Obama’s problems. Ironically, when Reid and Schumer complained to Obama about some of Daley’s more abrasive public statements, the president would often call on Lew to help soothe their ruffled feathers.


Lew did have some problems with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi during the debt ceiling crisis last summer, but publicly at least, she praised his choice. She called him a, “proven leader with extensive House experience, an expert on our nation’s toughest economic challenges, a strong voice in addressing our nation’s budget deficit, and a dedicated public servant with a long record of achievement inside and outside of government.”




Daley’s problems as chief of staff became apparent in November, when he surrendered some of his day-to-day duties to Pete Rouse, who had filled in as temporary chief-of-staff during the time between Emanuel’s departure and Daley’s arrival. According to several reports, by that point Daley had lost much of his authority in the White House, and Rouse was acting as his replacement in all but title.


Nevertheless, Daley’s decision to leave the position now took Obama by surprise. Daley had said earlier that he planned to stay on until after the November election, as is the norm for senior White House staff serving presidents involved in a re-election campaign.




While Daley has been criticized for his ineffectiveness as Obama’s chief of staff, there were others who laid the blame at the feet of the president, and his isolated White House style. Before Daley, the only effective chief of staff that Obama had was the flamboyant Emanuel, whose dominating style and legendary outbursts gave him plenty of input into White House politics and policy, but did not lend themselves to managerial efficiency.


On paper, Daley had excellent qualifications as a business manager with both banking and Washington experience. He tended to delegate authority more, acting like a corporate CEO. But Obama likes to act as his own chief of staff, and has personally managed the most important policy decisions of his presidency. These include the development of his surge military strategy in Afghanistan and a new national defense plan. In making other important policy decisions, Obama has tended to rely more on his old political allies from Chicago, including Valerie Jarrett, David Plouffe, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, rather than the White House staff. This made Daley’s job somewhat superfluous, turning him into more of a figurehead.


Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin said, “Obama is now through with his third Chief of Staff. When the history of this administration is written you will find out that Obama is not is not only an ideological disaster, but he is lazy, and extremely difficult to work with, nasty, cold, and condescending.”




This has raised questions about why Obama decided to tap Lew for the job over others with whom he has had much closer contacts. Lew’s reputation as a bi-partisan Washington deal maker seems to be out of step with Obama’s new policy of trying to bypass Congress entirely while he runs for re-election.


One congressional Republican aide was suspicious of Obama’s motives. The aide admitted that, when it comes to the budget, Lew “knows his stuff. On the one hand, that could mean actual progress on the deficit. At the same time, and perhaps more likely, he’s knowledgeable enough to slyly throw sand in the gears and guarantee the gridlock the White House is so invested in.”




Just days before picking Lew, Obama made a controversial recess appointment. He picked Richard Cordray to serve as director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The agency was created by the Dodd-Frank Act to supervise and regulate non-bank financial companies such as loan originators and credit bureaus as well as traditional lenders. Republicans are opposed to Dodd-Frank, because it does not do what it was supposed to, address the most glaring weaknesses in the US financial system which led directly to the 2008 financial crisis. Instead, Dodd- Frank piles on new levels of federal regulation onto mortgage lenders, credit cards and other financing companies which will create more costs to be passed on to lenders and home buyers, without adding any significant consumer protections.


Republicans were expected to block Senate confirmation of Cordray in order to keep the new law from fully going into effect. But Obama never even gave Congress a chance to do its job by reviewing his nominee. Obama did not formally nominate him until it was too late for Congress to hold confirmation hearings and hastily acted to install him in the post without Senate confirmation.




However, Obama claimed that the pro forma sessions now being held by the Senate could be ignored, allowing him to install Cordray as a recess appointment, without the need for Senate confirmation. Obama used the same tactic to name three new members to the National Labor Relations Board, Sharon Block, Terence Flynn, and Richard Griffin without the Senate advice and consent required by Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution. It says:


“He (the president) shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law.


“The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.”


Republican leaders reacted by issuing angry rebukes over Obama’s recess appointments and suggested that the appointments will be challenged in court because Obama acted while the Senate was still in session.


The action “threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress’s role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader.


House Speaker John Boehner said that Obama made an “extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab” in naming Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.




While presidents have made controversial recess appointments before, since the time of Theodore Roosevelt, they have respected the constitutional requirement that the Senate actually be in formal recess before taking such action.


Obama cannot plead ignorance. While a member of the faculty of the University of Chicago, he taught constitutional law. Also, in 2007, while Obama was a member of the US Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid kept the chamber in session using the same procedures employed now in order to prevent President George W. Bush from making recess appointments, yet Reid has approved the appointments now made by Obama.


Writing on the op-ed page of the Washington Post, Former US attorney general Edwin Meese and former Justice Department official Todd Gaziano said, “President Barack Obama’s attempt to unilaterally appoint three people to seats on the National Labor Relations Board and Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (after the Senate blocked action on his nomination) is more than an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the Senate’s advise-and-consent role. It is a breathtaking violation of the separation of powers and the duty of comity that the executive owes to Congress.


“Yes, some prior recess appointments have been politically unpopular, and a few have even raised legal questions. But never before has a president purported to make a “recess” appointment when the Senate is demonstrably not in recess. That is a constitutional abuse of a high order.


“As a former US attorney general and a former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who provided advice to presidents on recess appointment issues, we have defended and will continue to defend the lawful use of the recess appointment power. . . but only as long as the Senate is in recess.”


It is apparent from such moves that Obama intends to spend more of his time between now and November running for election than governing in Washington. That will leave Lew, as Daley’s successor in the White House, with relatively little to do.


Daley will return to Chicago, to serve as co-chairman of Obama’s re-election committee. That is where most of the important political decisions for this administration are now likely to be made.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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