Who Is New White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew?


By David A. Graham

The president’s new right-hand man is a bookish, private man, but he’s also an outspoken liberal who fits Obama’s new populist tone.

President Obama announced Monday afternoon that White House Chief of Staff William Daley is stepping down after just 361 days in the job (back in November, he was effectively demoted, giving up many of his duties but not his title, so the move isn’t totally unexpected). Replacing Daley as the president’s right-hand man will be Jacob Lew, better known as Jack. Here’s your cheat sheet on the new White House chief of staff.

1. He’s a numbers guy. Lew is currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget, running the numbers for the administration. It’s his second tour of duty in that job. He also held it from 1998 to 2001 during the Clinton administration. Prior to returning to his OMB chair, Lew worked for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as deputy secretary for management and resources, a chief operating office-like position he inaugurated.

2. He’s not afraid of color coordination. At OMB, Lew replaced Peter Orszag, the nerd-cum-heartthrob known for his cowboy boots. Lew is more understated, but don’t take him for any less stylish. Check out his subtle matching of necktie with Yahoo! color scheme in this clip.

3. He’s no moderate. When Obama named Bill Daley to succeed Rahm Emanuel, he was seen as a move to shore up the president’s support among business leaders and the private sector. Daley, a former JPMorgan representative, was one of them. Lew’s appointment fits with the leftward, populist tone that Obama has adopted as he enter the campaign season. The new chief of staff is a staunch liberal: he started his political career canvassing for anti-war hero Eugene McCarthy in 1968 (he was 12); his adviser at Carleton College was Paul Wellstone, later an iconic liberal senator; and one of his first jobs in Washington was working for Democratic lion and former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. But despite his acute partisan sensibility, he has long had a reputation for earning the trust of and working well with Republicans.

4. He’s part of the 1 percent. Don’t take his liberalism to mean that Lew is a wild-eyed socialist though. In fact, he’s a former banker. In 2008, he served as chief operating officer of Citigroup Alternative Investments, a division of the Wall Street behemoth. That group was involved in controversial practices like proprietary trading, and was involved in shorting the housing market as the economy lurched toward collapse.Perhaps in keeping with his resume, Lew has rejected the view of many fellow liberals who argue that deregulation of the financial sector contributed to the crash, saying, “[I don’t] personally know the extent to which deregulation drove it, but I don’t believe that deregulation was the proximate cause.” Expect to hear muffled howls of unhappiness from the left, which will be glad to see Daley go but upset at Lew’s positions.

5. He is a devout believer. The president better hope catastrophe doesn’t strike between sundown Friday and Saturday night. That’s because Lew is a devout Jew who observes the sabbath weekly. During the fierce budget fights of the late 1990s, it was the reportedly one of his few respites from wrangling. But don’t take our word for it. Lew has been invited to help light the National Menorah in Washington not once but twice, in 1998 and then again in December.

6. He doesn’t really want to you know anything else. Unlike the colorful Orszag, who he replaced at OMB, or the colorful Daley (who notoriously used a four-letter word in an interview with Politico in October), or Obama’s colorful first chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (who notoriously uses four-letter words as frequently as possible), Lew is a quiet guy. Rather than live permanently in Washington, he commutes to the capital from the Bronx. He’s guarded about his private life, refusing to divulge much about his children, for example, except how many there are — two, if you’re keeping score at home.


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