President Obama officially nominated White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew on Thursday to replace departing Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, calling his key aide a man of great integrity who has his "complete trust."
Even though Mr. Lew's move from running the White House to Treasury was long expected, Mr. Obama called the moment "bittersweet" because he was losing his guidance of day-to-day presidential operations.
"I trust his judgment; I value his friendship; I know very few people with greater integrity," he said during a ceremony in the White House East Room.
Mr. Lew is a longtime Washington insider who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget for both Mr. Obama and President Clinton and also worked for then-House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. early in his career.
Mr. Geithner is returning to the private sector after serving four tumultuous years at the Treasury Department.
Like Mr. Geithner, Mr. Lew has close ties to Wall Street, receiving more than $900,000 in bonus cash from a division of Citigroup just as the company was getting bailed out by U.S. taxpayers.
Known for his swift number-crunching and remaining calm under fire, Mr. Lew has supporters on both sides of the aisle.
But at least one prominent voice on the left said he would oppose Mr. Lew's nomination because of his ties to Wall Street.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent and a self-described socialist who caucuses with the Democrats, said he was "extremely concerned" that many of the president's advisers are too close to Wall Street.
At Citigroup, Mr. Lew was part of the senior internal management team, serving as managing director and chief operating officer of Citi Global Wealth Management and then as managing director and COO of Citi Alternative Investments.
Although Mr. Sanders called Mr. Lew "an extremely intelligent person" and applauded his many years of service to the country, he said he cannot support him.
"In my view, we need a treasury secretary who is prepared to stand up to corporate American and their powerful lobbyists and fight for policies that protect the working families in our country," Mr. Sanders said Thursday. "I do not believe Mr. Lew is that person."
The Lew nomination also is drawing opposition from some Republicans. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said he intends to oppose the nomination because he said Mr. Lew misled Congress about administration plans to reduce the national debt and so "must never be secretary of treasury."
Two years ago, while serving as Mr. Obama's budget director, Mr. Lew told Congress that the president's budget would not add to the national debt. The government has run up trillion-dollar deficits each of the past four years.
But the Financial Services Forum, a trade association for CEOs of the largest banks, credit companies, insurance companies and organizations that manage money, praised Mr. Lew's experience in both the public and private sectors.
"Mr. Lew is well-suited for the job especially at a time when Washington must come together to address our debt situation and put our nation on a long-term fiscally sustainable path," said Forum President Rob Nichols.
Thursday's formal announcement had some lighter moments.
In the past few days, Mr. Lew's illegible signature, a series of loops without any distinguishable letters, went viral on various social media outlets as critics weighed in with concerns about how strange it would look when appearing on newly minted dollars, as does the signature of each treasury secretary.
In remarks, Mr. Lew said he thought he knew a lot about Mr. Geithner after working with him for so many years in Washington but had just discovered that their share a "common challenge with penmanship."
Mr. Obama joked that Mr. Lew "assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible as not to debase our currency."
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Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at email@example.com.
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