If President Barack Obama chooses JPMorgan executive William Daley as his next chief of staff he could at last build bridges with the disgruntled U.S. business community, both on Main Street and Wall Street. Daley’s pro-trade views are a big reason the buzz around his potential nomination is so loud. The pick would also bode well for reaching deals with Republicans on taxes and spending. A few observations (via my column for Reuters Breakingviews):
1. It might be a stretch to call Daley a potential “dream pick” for Corporate America — but not by much. He was President Bill Clinton’s point man on trade in 1993 and deserves much of the credit for steering the North American Free Trade Agreement through a hostile Congress. As president of SBC Communications from 2001 through 2004, his job was to schmooze top regulators and the Republican Congress. More recently, Daley said Obama — a fellow Chicagoan whom he knows well — made a mistake by focusing on healthcare reform rather than job creation. That’s a view shared by many pragmatic members of the president’s own party.
2. The Daley Scenario is more than just a bout of wishful thinking from CEOs still cranky about Obama’s accusatory tone and pro-regulatory policies during the past two years. And it’s more than just a White House trial balloon to gauge the intensity of liberal outrage over hiring a Wall Street banker for a key administration position. (The early result on that are already in: Liberals are most unhappy at the prospect.) My sources confirm that Team Obama and Daley are having a serious conversation about the gig, though it’s hardly fait accompli. There’s even a chance Daley might instead replace Larry Summers as National Economic Council.
3. But Daley as chief of staff seems the more plausible outcome. It is certainly the more important job. When Rahm Emanuel held the position before leaving to run for Chicago mayor (replacing Daley’s brother), he was both White House gatekeeper and de facto chief economic policy adviser. Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett is the administration’s current liaison to business. But if Daley is the pick, it’s his phone number corporate bosses will dial if they need something from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
4. The same would go for Republicans. Daley is a fixer, not a general for waging ideological war against the Republicans in the next two years of Obama’s term. If party leaders want to cut a sweeping budget deal with Obama, Daley’s probably the right guy to grease the skids and make it happen. Come to think of it, it’s hard to see why the White House hadn’t thought of bringing Daley in before now.