President Obama dedicated part of a rare meeting with House Democrats to give “a tongue lashing” to a lawmaker who stood up to criticize Larry Summers, a top candidate to take over as head of the Federal Reserve.
Democrats who attended the closed-door discussion say one lawmaker, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., who was allowed to ask a question of the president used his time at the microphone to implore Obama not to select Summers, who served as Treasury Secretary under President Clinton and most recently as director of Obama’s economic council.
Perlmutter criticized Summers, echoing complaints from other liberal rank-and-file party members who say Summers did not push for a large enough stimulus and had in the past tried to block banking reforms, including pushing for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, which some believe later contributed to the collapse of the financial markets.
Many Democrats want Obama to tap Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen over Summers, but Obama barely mentioned her.
“He gave a very full-throated defense of Larry Summers,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said after the meeting in the cavernous Capitol Visitors Center. “He felt Larry had been badly treated by some on the left and in the press. I think the president showed real moxie in rising to his defense.”
Another Democrat, who asked to remain anonymous, said Perlmutter received a “tongue lashing” from the president.
A second lawmaker who asked not to be named said Obama “acted very defensive about what a great guy Larry Summers is,” and that the president said that Summers “was the only one making the tough decisions” on the economy in his role with the administration.
But Obama also mentioned other candidates for the job, including Yellen, telling Democrats, “The differences between them, in their general philosophies, you’d have to slice with a very thin knife to see.”
Obama told Democrats he is “nowhere near” a final decision on Fed leadership.
Obama’s defense of Summers did little to deflate opposition among liberal Democrats wary of his actions on stimulus spending and banking reform, said one attendee.
“Some people think he’s just not that good on these issues and I agree with that, by the way.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., played down the exchange, saying Obama used the occasion mostly to talk about the process of selecting a new Fed chairman.
“The president did not bring up the subject of Larry Summers, someone else did,” Pelosi said. “He spoke about what he thought about Larry Summers, he spoke about how important the decision is and recognizing the differences in our caucus and how we move forward.”