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Former Obama aide: Working for Summers was 'stimulating, enjoyable'

August 05, 2013|By Jim Puzzanghera
  • Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers speaks during a news conference at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong.
Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers speaks during a news conference… (Jerome Favre / Bloomberg )

WASHINGTON -- Critics of Lawrence H. Summers, one of the leading candidates to be the next Federal Reserve chairman, point to his reputation for being difficult to work with. 

But a former Obama administration economic aide who worked for Summers at the White House said he enjoyed the experience.

Steven Rattner, a former investment banker who headed President Obama's auto task force in 2009, said in a New York Times opinion article Monday that although he had known Summers for years, he wasn't sure what it would be like to work with him.

"Larry’s vivid and sometimes strong personality has been well chronicled. Even as a friend, I approached the prospect of serving under him with some trepidation," Rattner said.

"Boy, was I wrong," he continued. "Working for him turned out to be stimulating, enjoyable and harmonious."

Rattner said he enjoyed the give-and-take with Summers, a former Treasury secretary and top Obama economic advisor who he described as having a "remarkable mind."

Rattner added that "if I said something undeniably stupid, he wouldn’t hide his displeasure," but that Summers also "entertained any meritorious thought from any attendee, regardless of rank. "

"As near as I could tell, my thoroughly satisfying experience was similar to that of his other staffers," Rattner said.

Summers and Fed Vice Chair Janet L. Yellen are considered the front-runners to replace Ben S. Bernanke, whose second term as chairman expires in January.

Yellen supporters, such as former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila Bair and many congressional Democrats, have been publicly outspoken in pushing for her appointment.

One quality they've stressed is Yellen's ability to forge consensus, which draws an implicit contrast with Summers' reputation for having an abrasive personality.

Summers' supporters have been less public. That's likely because he has strong backers inside the White House, where he worked as head of Obama's National Economic Council from 2009 through 2010.


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