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New Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson next to President Elect Obama (UPI Photo/NewsCom/Brian Kersey)

It's the Economy

President-elect Obama chooses Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary, announces his economic team

By Dante A. Ciampaglia | null null , null

UPDATE: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination to become commerce secretary on January 4, 2009. A federal grand jury is investigating how a California company that contributed to Richardson's political campaigns won a New Mexico state contract worth more than $1 million. It is illegal to award state contracts in exchange for campaign contributions.

Although the investigation would not prevent Richardson from going through Senate confirmation hearings, it is unlikely that he would be confirmed for the Secretary of Commerce post while still under investigation.

“As long as the investigation is ongoing, I made the decision to withdraw as the president-elect's nominee for commerce secretary rather than ask for a delay in my appointment,” Richardson said at a news conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on January 5.


Obama said in a statement that he accepted Richardson's withdrawal "with deep regret" but that the governor was putting the nation first to avoid any delay in filling the Cabinet post.

The housing market is in trouble. People and businesses are having a hard time getting credit. Some of America’s biggest employers are cutting jobs almost every day. The nation has been in a recession since December 2007. (A recession is a period of time when a country’s economy stops growing.)
These are big problems, and Obama will have help in confronting them.

Over the course of the last week and a half, Obama has introduced key members of his economic team. Yesterday, the President-elect introduced New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as his nominee for Secretary of Commerce.

The Commerce Secretary occupies a Cabinet position that oversees the Commerce Department and the Secretary is responsible for job creation, economic growth, and improving living standards. As with other Cabinet positions, the U.S. Senate must confirm Richardson’s appointment.

“There’s a vital role for the Department of Commerce in our economic recovery,” Richardson said. “The unique strengths of the department and its talented public servants make it the natural agency to serve as the programmatic nerve center in America’s struggle to rejuvenate our economy.”

Richardson has experienced working in a president’s Cabinet before. He was Secretary of Energy when Bill Clinton was President. He was also U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. And he is fluent in Spanish.

“With his breadth and depth of experience in public life, Governor Richardson is uniquely suited for this role as a leading economic diplomat for America,” Obama said.

The Rest of the Team

Richardson’s nomination completes Obama’s announcement of his economic team.

On November 24, the President-elect announced that Timothy Geithner was his choice for Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner is currently the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He joined the Treasury Department in 1988, and from 1999 to 2001, he served as Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.

“Tim Geithner offers not just extensive experience shaping economic policy and managing financial markets, but an unparalleled understanding of our current economic crisis, in all of its depth, complexity and urgency,” Obama said. “Tim will waste no time getting up to speed. He will start his first day on the job with a unique insight into the failures of today's markets—and a clear vision of the steps we must take to revive them.”

Obama also introduced other key members of his economic team.

Lawrence Summers was picked to be the Director of the National Economic Council. Christina Romer was nominated as Director of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Melody Barnes was tapped for Director of the Domestic Policy Council. Heather Higginbottom was chosen as the Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

None of these positions is in the Cabinet. But members of the Council of Economic Advisers picked by the President must get Senate approval. So Romer will still need to be given the Senate’s seal of approval.

Days after making these announcements, Obama unveiled the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. It is a new institution that will be composed of government outsiders who will report to the President, Vice President, and their economic team. These outside advisers will give the President and his White House economic team a different perspective on important economic issues.

With all of Obama’s announcements, he is signaling to Americans that he is serious about overcoming the big problems affecting the nation’s economy. Change won’t happen overnight, Obama said. But he asserts that he has gathered the “best minds in America” to confront the country’s economic challenges.

“Vice President-elect Biden and I have assembled an economic team with the vision and expertise to stabilize our economy, create jobs, and get America back on track,” Obama said in November. “Even as we face great economic challenges, we know that great opportunity is at hand—if we act swiftly and boldly. That's the mission our economic team will take on.”



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