Policy

Is Larry Summers Worth the Hill Hassle for Obama?

President Barack Obama is set to fight a number of uphill battles in the months ahead, from congressional authorization of force in Syria to funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. Now, some Democrats are asking, does he really want to battle over his pick to lead the Federal Reserve, too?

Former Treasury Secretary and Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers is reportedly Obama's top choice for the most important job in all of economics. But Summers is not without his fair share of detractors, especially among Democrats, who in increasingly large numbers prefer current Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

Yellen would be the first female Fed chief and has been embraced by the left, perhaps because progressives find her more qualified but also because they just don't like Summers. This week, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, came out against Summers, and an aide to the senator said he plans to send a letter to the White House by week's end outlining his concerns with the controversial candidate.

"I have strong reservations about Summers," Begich said. "My view is based on the time that I've been here, with the couple years that I worked with him, and I just didn't get a sense that he clearly understood what the middle class is going through, the struggles — especially on the housing issue."

"Some of us tried to push him to move into doing something to help a lot of these homeowners who are underwater, it came late in the game," Begich continued. "I just didn't sense that he understood what the middle class is going through, and I didn't vote for Bernanke, and so I'm kind of consistent."

Obama certainly would be free to push forward with the nominee of his choosing, but at what cost?

In July, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Summers "a friend" and "very competent" but said the decision over who would replace current Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is up to the president. He also said at the time he believed his caucus would get behind whomever Obama choose, which might not prove to be true.

Several important issues already are dividing Democrats in ways that could be embarrassing for the president, from the anti-war liberals who likely will defect on a Syria vote to the members still upset with the way the administration has handled spending negotiations with Republicans.

With spending bills set to be debated soon, it's possible several Democrats will take stands over social programs that have been imperiled by previous agreements. Obama could announce Summers as his choice knowing the level of dissent — and it would be characteristic of this White House to do so — but there will be other Democrats who make noise about it.

"What you're seeing is — whether it's people who are opposed to his nomination or whether it's people who don't want to see another fight that splits the party — people are coming around to the idea that it's not worth it to nominate Larry Summers," said one aide to a Senate Democrat who opposes his nomination.

It ultimately depends, however, on whether Obama sees the political landscape the same way.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.