Jack Lew accepts Treasury secretary nomination

President Barack Obama shakes hands with current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, after he announced that he will nominate Lew as the next Treasury Secretary.
Jack Lew

President Obama formally announced that he has named Jack Lew, his chief of staff, to the post of Treasury Secretary. The president asked the Senate to confirm him immediately.

"I trust his judgment, I value his friendship," the president said during a mid-afternoon announcement at the White House.

The president called the move "bittersweet" because Lew would no longer be at arms-length from the president as his chief of staff but, rather, at an office next door to the White House running the Treasury Department. "My loss will be the nation's gain," he added.

Mr. Obama also praised outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, saying, "When the history books are written, Timothy Geithner will go down as one of the finest secretaries of the Treasury."

The 57-year-old Lew got his start in Washington politics working for former House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, where he was part of the negotiations with the Ronald Reagan White House on Social Security reform and tax reform. Lew has been praised for his role as former President Clinton's budget director for helping to usher in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which led to a government surplus by the time Clinton left office.

After several years in the private sector, including a stint at Citigroup, Lew joined the Obama administration in 2009, first as a deputy Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton and then began a second stint as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Last January, Lew was then became White House chief of staff after Bill Daley left.

If confirmed, Lew would take over when the administration will be embroiled in discussions with congressional Republicans over three fiscal deadlines: whether to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling, dealing with automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs, and the extension of a spending bill to keep the government operating.

Like with any appointment, opposition is building to Lew.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said Lew must "never" be confirmed because of a "false" statement Lew made during a 2011 hearing when he said the president's budget proposal would not add to the debt.

Meantime, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with the Democrats, is criticizing Lew's time at Citigroup, where he was a hedge fund manager for two years before joining the Obama White House.

"As a supporter of the president, I remain extremely concerned that virtually all of his key economic advisers have come from Wall Street," Sanders said in a statement. "In my view, we need a treasury secretary who is prepared to stand up to corporate America and their powerful lobbyists and fight for policies that protect the working families in our country. I do not believe Mr. Lew is that person."

Perhaps indicating that strong opposition is not widespread, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee - the committee that will conduct Lew's confirmation hearing - offered a more cautious response. "[I]t's imperative that Mr. Lew outline the Administration's plans on tackling our unsustainable debt, what areas of federal spending should be cut, and what kind of reforms - from our tax code to our entitlement programs - are needed to get our fiscal house in order."

On a lighter note, Lew confronted the outsized attention he has received for his loopy, illegible signature, joking that despite decades of knowing Geithner, he learned yesterday that they both have "a common challenge of penmanship."

The president also quipped about Lew's John Hancock, which, if he's confirmed, will appear on all paper money: "Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency."

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.