Washington — Jacob Lew helped Orthodox observance reach the highest precincts of governance. But can a man that Republicans say “can’t get to yes” be confirmed as secretary of the Treasury?
President Obama nominated Lew, his chief of staff, to the post, replacing Timothy Geithner.
Lew is well known in Washington circles, but in some ways he is the polar opposite of Joe Lieberman, the former Connecticut senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee whose exuberant and public Jewish observance helped pave the way for Lew.
Lew has been in public view much less than Lieberman and has not aggressively promoted his observance, although Lew is happy to talk about how he balances it with public service in relatively confined Jewish settings.
He credits his bosses – Bill Clinton in the 1990s, when Lew headed the Office of Management and Budget, and Obama, under whom Lew has headed the OMB before becoming chief of staff – for their understanding.
“As a father who is at home and has dinner with his girls, he values that Shabbat is my time being with my family,” Lew told JTA in a pre-election interview, when he was stumping for the president. “I could not ask for someone to be more respectful and supportive, and that’s the reason it works.”
Such deference, coupled with a studiously low profile in Washington, has helped smooth his relationships. Until recently, Lew was a Washington rarity – a person who enjoyed admiration on both sides of the aisle.
That came to an abrupt end two years ago when Lew, in his OMB capacity, led the administration’s negotiations with Congress to rein in the deficit. The talks failed, and the GOP made Lew a bogeyman, saying he was too ideological.
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s book about the talks, “The Price of Politics,” quoted Republicans as describing Lew as “disrespectful” and overly ideological in protecting entitlements. Woodward quotes House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as pleading with the White House to pull back Lew, saying he could not “get to yes.”