One of These People Could Be the Next U.S. Treasury Secretary
It's a recruiting challenge for even the savviest presidential campaign — finding the ideal candidate for a job like this:
The role is U.S. Treasury secretary — spokesperson for the world's reserve currency, economic cheerleader, financial market regulator, signatory of the almighty buck.
With Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, dominating their bids for their parties' nominations, Bloomberg spoke to analysts, campaign staff and former officials to start the guessing over who will succeed Jacob J. Lew in the house Hamilton built.
What follows is a list based on who's advising the candidates, donating to them and aligning with their ideologies. An important caveat is that a lot can change in the months ahead and no such lineup for this Senate-approved position is complete this early in the game; a couple Treasury secretaries in the past few decades were indeed dark horses (think railroad executive John Snow in the George W. Bush administration).
Lael Brainard (Clinton)
A Federal Reserve governor since June 2014, Brainard, 54, has ties to the Obama administration and Team Clinton. She previously spent four years at Treasury — most recently as undersecretary for international affairs — and was an economic adviser and G-7 sherpa during Bill Clinton's presidency. Her husband, Kurt Campbell, was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top official for East Asia and the Pacific. In an unusual gesture for a senior Fed policy maker, Brainard, who declined to comment for this story, has donated the maximum for an individual — $2,700 — to the Clinton campaign. Achilles' heel: Her Democratic loyalty may be perceived as too partisan for some key Republican senators.
Gary Gensler (Clinton)
The next Treasury secretary may already be working for Clinton. Before becoming chief financial officer of her presidential campaign, Gensler, 58, was chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, playing a lead role drafting and implementing the Dodd-Frank Act. The former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner was a champion for tougher Wall Street regulation and was viewed as a top ally to financial reform advocates and a thorn in the side of big business. Gensler didn't respond to request for comment through the Clinton campaign team. Achilles' heel: His tenure as an aggressive regulator may have alienated his old Wall Street friends and plenty of the Senate lawmakers he'd need to confirm him.
Phil Gramm (Cruz)
Cruz named the former senator as an economic adviser last month. As Senate Banking Committee chairman, Gramm, 73, co-wrote the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, eliminating barriers between banks, insurance companies and securities firms. In 2008, while working as an economic adviser and co-chair of John McCain's presidential campaign, Gramm dismissed the downturn as a "mental recession." Gramm has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Georgia. He declined to comment. Achilles' heel: Some critics blame the 2008 financial crisis partly on the legislation he co-authored to remove the firewall between banks and securities firms.
Carl Icahn (Trump)
Few may imagine that a contrarian investor who says he makes money by studying "stupidity" might be the next Treasury secretary. But nothing seems too far-fetched with Trump, who has floated Icahn as a possible candidate for the job. Icahn, who has a $20.3 billion fortune and ranks 32nd on Bloomberg's list of richest people, initially said he wasn't interested. But after watching Trump in a televised debate, the 80-year-old tweeted that he'd accepted the offer. Icahn's straight-talk style and media prowess is befitting of Trump's political approach. He didn't respond to a request for comment. Achilles' heel: Icahn would have to fight the perception that, as an activist investor, he's more focused on short-term profits than on long-term stability.
Henry Kravis (Trump)
In multiple TV appearances last summer, Trump was quick to name Kravis as a potential member of his cabinet. To which the co-founder of private equity firm KKR & Co. responded: "That was scary when he said that." Kravis's net worth of around $4.2 billion places him No. 376 on the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, enough for real cred with Wall Street. An Oklahoma native who's spent his career in New York finance circles, Kravis, 72, brings the perspective of a Washington outsider. "While I'm honored to be mentioned, I love my job, have a lot to do and can't imagine leaving it," he said in response to an e-mailed request for comment. Achilles' heel: The coziness to Wall Street may make some senators squeamish.
Robert Reich (Sanders)
Reich, 64, served as Bill Clinton's first-term secretary of labor. Feeling the Bern this election cycle, Reich is a chief economic surrogate for Sanders and has gone to bat for him, including versus former White House Council of Economic Advisers chairs who slammed Sanders's budget plan as unrealistic. Given Reich's crusade against income inequality, the match makes sense. "I wouldn't go back to Washington with my heart fluttering and tail wagging, but I'd go because I consider it a public duty," the University of California Berkeley public policy professor said in a statement to Bloomberg. Achilles' heel: His left-of-left-leaning economic views could be seen as too far outside the mainstream.
Mitt Romney (Cruz)
For Cruz, the challenge will be reassuring markets that his administration doesn't plan anything radical — he has proposed such drastic steps as returning to the gold standard. Picking Romney, 69, as Treasury secretary might calm investor nerves and help Cruz smooth divisions within the GOP. Pre-politics, Romney co-founded the private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC and served as Massachusetts governor before losing the 2012 presidential election as the Republican nominee. He didn't respond to request for comment. Achilles' heel: The same issues that dogged Romney during his presidential campaign, such as his roots in private equity, might be a liability.
Sheryl Sandberg (Clinton)
If Clinton wants to emphasize the innovation economy, she could look to Sandberg. Facebook Inc.'s chief operating officer has a mix of business wisdom and Treasury Department know-how. Sandberg, 46, earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and was an executive in global sales at Google Inc. She was also a research assistant at the World Bank for Lawrence Summers, and served as chief of staff when he was Treasury secretary. Sandberg, who declined to comment through a Facebook spokeswoman, is the author of "Lean In," which examines obstacles women face as they work their way up. Achilles' heel: Political background and Silicon Valley expertise aside, some might say she hasn't sharpened the necessary financial-market chops.
Elizabeth Warren (Sanders)
Few names in Washington make Wall Street cringe more than Warren, and for Sanders that's the point. The Massachusetts senator debuted in national politics after the 2008 financial crisis as head of the congressional panel monitoring the $700 billion bailout program and led a progressive charge against big banks, which Sanders wants to dismantle. Amid Dodd-Frank reforms, Warren, 66, proposed what became the watchdog Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Recently she helped block the bid by Treasury's Antonio Weiss for a promotion, partly by highlighting his investment banking background. Warren declined to comment. Achilles' heel: Her liberal ideology and take-no-prisoners approach might make her unpalatable for senators of either party.
Jack Welch (Trump)
Trump has also name-dropped the 80-year-old retired General Electric chief as a cabinet favorite. Welch has proven corporate success — GE's value rose 4,000 percent in the 20 years he was at the helm — and he has an appetite to shake up Washington. Welch made headlines in 2012 when he accused the Obama administration of cooking employment numbers. Trump isn't Welch's first choice. He told Fox News this year: "My guy is Cruz." Welch didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Achilles' heel: His concentrated success in the blue-chip world might not be enough to convince senators of his government wherewithal.
Other possible contenders
Finally, we'd be remiss to exclude names that came up in our conversations — most of whom have been confirmed previously for senior government positions and have already demonstrated the mettle to lead:
- Tim Adams, Institute of International Finance president and CEO who served as Treasury's undersecretary of international affairs during the George W. Bush administration (Republican)
- Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a former budget hand and Treasury chief of staff during the Bill Clinton administration (Democrat)
- House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, who shares Texas roots with Cruz (Republican)
- Robert Zoellick, former U.S. Trade Representative and deputy secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration (Republican)
- Cheryl Mills, a BlackRock Inc. board member who was Clinton's chief of staff at State (Democrat)
- Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, whose spirited critique of free-market capitalism would do Sanders proud (Democrat)
- Stanford University's John Taylor, whose advocacy for rules-based monetary policy coincides especially with Cruz's positions, and who also has served as undersecretary of international affairs (Republican)
- Former Council of Economic Advisers Chair Laura D'Andrea Tyson (Democrat)
- Gene Sperling, former economic adviser in the Obama and Clinton administrations (Democrat)
- Former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, who also served under George W. Bush as a special assistant on economic policy (Republican)
—With assistance from Devin Banerjee and Mark Niquette.