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President Barack Obama gave a “full throated defense of Larry Summers” at a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday morning.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., told reporters following the closed-door meeting that Obama praised Summers, the former Treasury secretary, and “his record in helping save the economy in the dark days of ’09.”
Obama also, Connolly said, “felt that Larry had been badly treated by some from the left and in the press.”
The White House is currently mulling who to nominate to replace outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, and Summers is reportedly on the short list. Some Democrats have expressed consternation about the possibility of Summers ascending to the post, however, and prefer another candidate: the current Fed vice chairman, Janet Yellen.
Connolly said that while Yellen’s name was mentioned, Obama said that “he had made no decision, was close to no decision.”
When asked later about the extent to which Summers’ potential nomination was discussed at the Capitol Hill meeting this morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sought to downplay the issue.
“The president did not bring up the subject of Larry Summers. Someone else did,” said the California Democrat at the news conference after the meeting. “The president is the president of the United States and he did make a, I don’t want to say a defense, but he just spoke about what he thought about Larry Summers.
“But it wasn’t really about Larry Summers,” Pelosi continued. “It was about how important this decision is, the ramifications of who the chairman of the Fed is [and] recognizing there are differing views in our caucus on the subject and how we go forward, but understanding that whoever the president chooses will be received with great respect by our caucus.”
Rep. Ed. Perlmutter, D-Colo., asked the question probing the president’s thoughts on the Summers nomination, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the meeting’s proceedings.
The meeting with the president was called initially to talk about the White House’s economic agenda; he met separately with Senate Democrats afterward. As Obama was leaving the House meeting, he gleefully described the proceedings as centered on “jobs, middle class [and] growth.”
Lawmakers filtering out of the Capitol Visitor Center auditorium concurred that those words just about summed things up and that aside from the Summers dust-up, the dialogue was drama-free.
“The president laid out what I thought, quite frankly, was a pitch-perfect economic strategy for the middle class yesterday, and a lot of the caucus was asking about the specifics,” freshman Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., said of Obama’s unveiling of a “grand bargain” that would use revenue from a corporate tax rewrite to boost spending on infrastructure, manufacturing and skills training.
“He was very optimistic and very hopeful and I believe we’re on the right track and he told us to stay the course and we’re gonna do that,” added Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “It means you don’t let them destroy what we’ve accomplished. Kids today who have health care because of the Affordable Care Act. We have to remind folks of all of the good things that have come here.”
Pelosi called Obama the “persistent president” whose message was largely about “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., added that the president also addressed an immigration overhaul “as a way to grow jobs” and the importance of passing a rewrite of the Voting Rights Act in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling.
Going into the meeting, an aide to a Democratic lawmaker predicted it would be much like a “pep rally.” In a sense, it appears he was correct.
“Members are ready to go out in August and talk to constituents,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California at the news conference. “We are asking [members] to please be out there as often as possible in August to talk to Americans, and talked to them about how we are ready to work with the president to help create more jobs, to continue to expand our health care opportunities and make sure we get things done.
“We’re ready,” he said.
An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect party affiliation for Nancy Pelosi. She is a Democrat.