Obama casts wide net for next commerce secretary

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 6:57 PM
Obama casts wide net for next commerce secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is still in the "early stages" of finding a successor to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, chosen to be U.S. ambassador to China, the White House said on Monday.

"The president will consider a number of qualified candidates, from inside and outside of the administration, from business and from outside of business, but we are at an early stage in the process and no decisions have been made," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

White House chief of staff Bill Daley, who served as commerce secretary from 1997 to 2000 under former President Bill Clinton, is leading the search team with help from senior Obama advisers David Plouffe and Valerie Jarrett.

Several sources have said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is under consideration for the post.

Other possible candidates are said to include Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and former Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Jeffrey Kindler.

Psaki did not identify any potential nominees.

Obama had rocky relations with business during his first two years in office and replacing Locke, a former Washington state governor, with a business leader might help him repair relations on that front.

Representative Barney Frank has launched a campaign to persuade Obama to appoint someone familiar with fishery issues to head Commerce, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, has criticized Locke for steps NOAA has taken to restrict catches.

Locke will replace Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China after Huntsman leaves Beijing at the end of April.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing on Locke's nomination to be ambassador to China, which must be approved by the Senate.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer and Caren Bohan; Editing by Peter Cooney)