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Speculation Abounds As Geithner Denies Considering Exit

Ryan Faughnder |
July 1, 2011 | 9:01 a.m. PDT

Senior News Editor

After reports surfaced Thursday that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was considering leaving office after the conclusion of the debate over whether to raise the federal debt limit, Geither almost immediately began to back-pedal. He told former president Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative that he may leave the Obama administration but that he would stay at his post for the "foreseeable future." 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (Creative Commons)
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (Creative Commons)

"I live for this work," he told Clinton. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I believe in it. We have a lot of challenges as a country."

Still speculation erupted over whether or not Geithner would leave, what it would mean for the administration that is still dealing with a sour economy and who might replace him. Capturing some of the glee from Geithner's opponents, Reason's blog's headline on the subject screamed "Jump, Geithner! Jump!" only to update it later with the secretary's sobering comments on the speculation. 

Geithner's resignation would represent a full turnover of Obama's economic braintrust. Larry Summers left his post months ago to retake his place as the president of Harvard, and Obama's chief economic adviser Austan Goolsbee announced early in June that he would be leaving. 

Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that Geithner's exit could be the last chance for the Obama adiministration to "distance itself" from the pro-Wall Street policies that have dominated its approach over the last several years.

But given the unofficial shortlist of replacements that has popped up over the last couple days, that may not be likely. Potential candidates include JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, BlackRock chief Larry Fink, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt and investment banker Roger Altman.

These potential nominations would conform to Republican demands for the president to include more leaders from private industry in his cabinet. 

“If and when Secretary Geithner announces his departure, it will be interesting to see whether the president emphasizes with his replacement financial-sector credentials like he did by choosing William Daley as his chief of staff, or if he focuses primarily on Washington experience and regulatory acumen,” former treasury official Stephen Myrow told Bloomberg.

One interesting possible candidate is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who has not only been described as the adult in the room at the social media giant, but also as one of the business world's most powerful women. According to Henry Boldget at Business Insider:

She went to Harvard and then Harvard Business School. And she recently gave Columbia's graduates a swift, inspiring kick in the ass, urging women of the next generation to get out there and win where her generation had failed.

Being Treasury Secretary these days is a thankless job, given the hatred of the Wall Street bailouts, the failure of financial reform, and the massive stimulus and support the government is still directing to the nation's big banks. But if anyone could pull it off and not become an object of loathing, it would be Sheryl. Unlike Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Sheryl also has enough distance from Wall Street that she could do the job without appearing to be a pawn of the big banks and alienating most of the country in the process.

Obama's trips to Silicon Valley may pay off afterall.

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