Larry Summers Out the White House Door

The White House should replace Summers with Bernie Marcus, if only to keep us all entertained.

National Economic Council director Larry Summers will be swapping the White House for Harvard before the end of this year. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein explains the meaning behind Summers’ move:

Summers’s announcement comes on the heels of Peter Orszag’s and Christina Romer’s departures, but it’s unquestionably the biggest of the three. As head of the NEC, Summers ran the White House’s economic-policy process. He was also, by most accounts, Obama’s lead economic adviser. His West Wing office put him physically closer to the president than any other member of the team. His long experience in government — including a stint as Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration — gave him a level of political seasoning that the other council members didn’t have, and that Obama relied on heavily at the outset of his presidency. His reputation for brilliance gave him an edge in an administration that prizes academic accomplishment.

His departure leaves a tremendous power vacuum in the Obama administration’s economic policy team — and at the exact moment that the recovery seems to be slowing. With Orszag, Summers and Romer gone, the administration is without three of its strongest voices. That makes the choice on NEC director — the person who will have to build and manage the economic policy process as the new team gets its footing — a lot more important. With Summers, the administration got a very strong economic adviser, but not someone known for his managerial talents. Now, as a host of less senior voices vie for influence, the administration might approach the choice of his replacement differently.

NPR has more on who the White House might be considering to replace Summers:

The administration is said to be considering a woman to replace Summers, who announced Tuesday that he will leave at the end of this year. NPR’s John Ydstie said there are reports that the White House wants to replace Summers with “a business person to try repair relations with the business community, which has complained they don’t have a voice in the White House.”

“One name being circulated is Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox,” Ydstie said. Others said to be under consideration include current Xerox chief executive Ursula Burns and Laura Tyson, who held the National Economic Council director’s post during the Clinton administration.

The Christian Science Monitor describes how leaving might be good for Summers:

Rumors are flying about why Summers is leaving – or whether he is being forced to leave. His short tenure – he assumed office in January 2009 – was rife with controversy. Summers has come under fire for his ties to Wall Street, his aggressive manner in meetings, and his economic-policy arguments.

Indeed, controversy seems to follow Summers wherever he goes. During his tenure as president of Harvard, the blunt-spoken economist sparked national fury when he suggested that the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering careers may be due to a difference in aptitude.

Of course, all that controversy would make for a fascinating memoir. And the signs certainly seem to suggest that a book may be in the works.

The Economist goes as far as to call Summers’ end a sideshow:

Meanwhile this is all, to no small extent, a sideshow. With Democrats set to lose seats (and perhaps majorities) in November, the 2011 agenda will be quite limited. The bulk of the consequential economic policymaking will be done by the Federal Reserve. Mr Summers may well have calculated that his influence would be at least as great, and his headaches reduced, from an office in Cambridge and a column at the Financial Times.

Wonder what the probability is of Summers getting replaced by another Goldman Sachs alumnus.

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.