White House officials have approached American Express Co. CEO Kenneth Chenault about joining President Barack Obama’s second-term administration, possibly as Treasury secretary, according to two people familiar with the matter.
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew remains the leading contender for the Treasury job, the people said. Still, consideration of Chenault among Obama’s staff may indicate the president hasn’t made a final decision on a replacement for Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who has said he plans to leave the post.
Other potential roles for Chenault, a longtime Obama supporter, may be as Commerce secretary or as a senior adviser to the president, according to the people, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations. White House officials have also considered Xerox Corp. CEO Ursula Burns as a potential nominee for the Commerce Department job, both of the people said.
The White House declined to comment on the potential nominations.
Seeking to accelerate economic growth and repair a relationship with the business community frayed by first term battles over taxes and regulation, Obama has said he would like to have a high-level executive to join his administration. Administration officials have said the Commerce Department is a natural spot for such an executive.
Chenault, 61, and Burns, 54, are members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and have been frequently consulted by Obama on the economy.
“From the beginning, Chenault was an important outside voice from the business world that the President always liked hearing from,” said Austan Goolsbee, a former chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “On matters of financial markets or consumer behavior, Chenault always seemed able to identify trends 6-12 months ahead of time.”
Since 1989, Chenault and his wife have contributed $139,250 to Democrats and $5,700 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
Mike O’Neill, a spokesman at American Express, declined to comment on a possible Chenault role in the administration. Karen Arena, a Xerox spokeswoman, said Burns “has no plans to leave her leadership position at Xerox.”
During the presidential campaign, Obama said the government needed a “secretary of business,” to coordinate interactions between businesses and government agencies and streamline the federal regulatory process.
Cabinet officers are subject to Senate confirmation. In an interview after his re-election, Obama said the hearings, scrutiny and paperwork involved have made some executives reluctant to enter public service.
“One of the biggest problems we’ve got in terms of recruiting business leaders into the administration is the confirmation process has become so miserable, so drawn out, that for successful folks to want to put themselves through that process, you know, a lot of folks are just shying away,” the president said in the Bloomberg Television interview.