President Barack Obama will likely wait to announce his nominee to lead the U.S. Federal Reserve until after Congress votes on military action in Syria and probably until the immediate outcome of a strike is clear, according to several people close to the White House.
“Syria right now has kind of paralyzed the town,” said David Plouffe, a former senior Obama adviser. “They’ll wait until the dust clears.”
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An administration official said Obama hasn’t yet decided whom he will nominate for the Fed chairmanship. The official, who requested anonymity because the deliberations are private, declined to discuss the potential timing of an announcement.
Obama is mounting a full-court press to win support from members of Congress for authorization to attack Syria over what the administration says is the regime’s use of chemical weapons. Even as he traveled overseas to meetings with leaders in Sweden and Russia, he was making phone calls to senators and canceled a planned trip to California next week to focus on lobbying.
The Senate plans to begin debating an authorization resolution when it returns from its five-week break on Sept. 9. House leaders don’t plan to begin consideration until after a Senate vote, according to a House aide. That opens the possibility that the congressional debate on Syria will drag on until the week of Sept. 16.
Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s term expires at the end of January, and a new chairman will require confirmation by the Senate. The top contenders to replace him include Lawrence Summers, Obama’s former National Economic Council director, and Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen. The president has also mentioned former Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn as a candidate.
Patrick Griffin, who was the chief congressional lobbyist for former President Bill Clinton, said the administration probably would hold off on a Fed nomination until at least the Syrian military action is far enough along that the sense of crisis has lifted from Washington.
Repercussions such as a retaliatory attack by the Syrian regime against U.S. interests or allies, or more chemical weapons use against civilians, could extend the period of crisis and further delay an announcement, he said.
“I’ve seen it many times before,” Griffin said. “These kind of crises just suck all the air out of the room until they’re resolved.”
Should Obama choose Summers, 58, it would be difficult for the president to mount a campaign on his behalf among some Senate Democrats who have expressed both reservations about the economist and reluctance to authorize a military strike, said a former Obama adviser who asked not to be identified offering strategic analysis from outside the administration.
A backlash against Summers has developed within the Democratic Party based on his role in Clinton’s Treasury Department on financial deregulation, which some say helped precipitate the 2008 market crisis.
Those misgivings were underscored in July by a letter that Senate Democrats sent to Obama urging him to choose Yellen, 67. The president responded with a defense of Summers.
Joel Johnson, a former senior adviser to Clinton and onetime staff director to the Democratic Senate leadership, said Obama was likely to wait regardless of the nominee he chooses.
“I cannot imagine anything unrelated happening before the Syria votes, and probably not in the immediate aftermath,” said Johnson, now managing director of the Glover Park Group, a Washington-based strategic communications firm. “When the focus is this intense, you’re not going to overload the system with another major debate unless absolutely necessary.”
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