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Bankers and other financial services executives privately expressed concern that Lew lacked financial markets experience, even though he worked on Wall Street for two years. Sheila Bair, a former bank regulator, told CNBC television on Wednesday that “someone with a little broader perspective would be good.”
Lew, who is known as a strong administrator, admitted his financial experience was scant when he was vetted by the Senate to serve as a State Department deputy secretary and then as Obama’s budget chief.
At a Senate Budget Committee hearing in September 2010, he was pressed by Senator Bernie Sanders for his views on whether deregulation contributed significantly to the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
“I don’t consider myself an expert in some of these aspects of the financial industry,” Lew responded. “My experience with the financial industry has been as a manager, not as an investment adviser.”
“I don’t personally know the extent to which deregulation drove it, but I don’t believe that deregulation was the, you know, proximate cause,” he added.
Those comments upset Sanders, a political independent who supports tougher regulation. Sanders voted against Lew’s selection as budget chief, and on Thursday said he was prepared to vote against him again.
While Lew is expected to win confirmation, he could face a fair amount of opposition from a combination of left-leaning, pro-regulation lawmakers like Sanders and Republicans who have clashed with the nominee in past budget talks.
During his time on Wall Street, Lew was the chief operating officer of Citigroup’s global wealth management division. He later became COO for Citi Alternative Investments, a largely administrative role that was apart from investment decisions that portfolio managers would have made.
“I found that things he was responsible for doing worked better after he joined,” said Todd Thomson, who headed Citigroup’s wealth management unit in 2006 and hired Lew. “He’s very good at working across an organization, and bringing people together to resolve issues.”