Summers To Make D.C. Comeback?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—If Barack Obama wins today’s election, former University President Lawrence H. Summers could be selected for his second term as Secretary of the Treasury as soon as this Friday—at least according to the D.C. rumor mill.

Obama may announce several key cabinet positions by the end of the week if he is elected president, according to Alexander I. Burns ’08, who writes for Capitol Hill rag The Politico, a job which keeps his finger on the pulse of Washington political news and gossip.

Summers, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, has been reported as a possibility for the head treasury position in an Obama administration.

“The Washington rumor mill suggests that the Summers thing is quite serious,” Burns said.

But Burns said he was still skeptical that Obama would choose Summers as a comeback kid treasury secretary.

“If he’s going to stick with this ‘Change you can believe in’ message, bringing back a former treasury secretary is not necessarily the best way to communicate that,” Burns said. “That said, people in this town regard Summers very, very highly, and if Obama’s goal is not to so much stick with his campaign message but to reassure the markets and the policy elite, he’s a very natural choice.”

Summers was mum regarding his political chances.

"Usually those who know don't talk and those who talk don't know," he wrote in an e-mailed statement last night.

A McCain presidency would likely bring many fewer Harvard affiliates to Washington, according to Burns and recent media reports.

Among the other Harvard names being floated for top positions, Samantha Power, a scholar of genocide based at the Harvard Kennedy School, is one of the most interesting, Burns said.

“Given how controversial she was in the Democratic primary, I do think she clearly has some kind of toe hold inside the Obama campaign, or her name wouldn’t be coming up at this point,” Burns said.

Power called Hillary Clinton a “monster” during an interview with a British paper last March.

The fact that she recently married close Obama adviser and Harvard Law School Professor Cass R. Sunstein ’75 doesn’t hurt her chances, Burns said.

A former head of the Harvard Political Review, Burns sat down with The Crimson yesterday afternoon for a half-hour chat on the eve of the election. He said he timed the 3:00 p.m. interview for a time when both Obama and McCain would be in transit between their scheduled events, which he had memorized.

Burns started working for The Politico less than two weeks after he graduated, and he’s been riding the tide of the presidential race since then.

He said that it’s sometimes hard to know whether the names now being floated for possible cabinet positions are real possibilities or empty compliments.

“Some of it the campaigns put out trying to reward their supporters by getting them talked about in a nice way,” he said.

—Staff writer Lois E. Beckett can be reached lbeckett@fas.harvard.edu.