Obama Said to Consider India Envoy Roemer for Commerce Post

U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer
Timothy Roemer, U.S. Ambassador to India. Photographer: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Timothy Roemer, the U.S. envoy to India who is set to leave that post next month, is among the candidates being considered by President Barack Obama to become the next commerce secretary, according to people familiar with the selection process.

Roemer is among several contenders to fill the job being vacated by Gary Locke, whom Obama has nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to China. He is a former U.S. representative from Indiana and served on the Sept. 11 commission. Roemer, 54, also was an early backer of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Roemer announced on April 28 that he was resigning as U.S. ambassador to India for family and professional reasons and expected to leave New Delhi in June.

“When I accepted this job two years ago, I told President Obama that I would serve for two years but that family considerations would be front and center after that,” Roemer, whose two sons will be starting college in the next 14 months, said in a statement released by the embassy.

Roemer was in Washington in late April and met with White House aides, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the selection process is still under way. Administration officials conveyed to him that he was a candidate for the job, though other names are also being considered, the people said.

Obama also has been considering naming a business executive to the Commerce Department post.

Safe Choice

By selecting Roemer, who served six terms before leaving Congress in 2003, Obama would be making a safe choice for a position that requires Senate confirmation, said former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.

Roemer didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

In deciding on a new commerce secretary, the White House is considering “two models -- the politician model and the ex-CEO model,” said Bayh, a Democrat who left the Senate last year and is now a partner at the law firm McGuireWoods LLP in Washington.

“The advantage of Tim is he’s very good at speaking and talking to the public,” Bayh said. “Picking a CEO would extend an olive branch to the business community.”

A chief executive officer also would have to defend a corporate record, potentially drawing a fight during confirmation hearings. Obama has faced criticism from some Democratic and Republican lawmakers over his appointment of General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt to lead the president’s jobs council, which didn’t require Senate approval.

Exports to India

As Obama’s India envoy, Roemer was involved in the president’s strategy to double exports by 2015 and worked with Immelt, Jim McNerney of Boeing Co., David Cote of Honeywell International Inc. and other CEOs to increase U.S. companies’ presence in India.

“He is someone who truly knows how to create jobs,” said Joe Andrew, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who knows Roemer from Indiana and national politics. Roemer is “thoughtful, persuasive and pragmatic,” Andrew said.

If he is nominated, Roemer may face questions about a decision by India’s Ministry of Defence to choose European fighter jets over warplanes from Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., snubbing lobbying efforts by the Obama administration.

In a statement released after the April 28 decision, Roemer said the U.S. was “deeply disappointed” by the government’s choice for the world’s biggest fighter-jet order in 15 years.

‘Good Salesman’

“He was a good salesman for the U.S.,” said Rajiv Kumar, director general at Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, who has met with Roemer. “He got to know the country quite well, he cuts to the chase and concentrates on the real issues.”

While a member of the House, Roemer voted against ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Among the possible nominees for the Commerce post who have been mentioned by other people familiar with the administration’s deliberations are Ron Kirk, who as U.S. trade representative has had a leading role in pressing the White House’s trade agenda, and Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Schmidt has indicated that he is not interested in the job.

The administration hasn’t given a timeline on the selection of a nominee.

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