Dr. Summers Returns to Washington?

Lawrence H. Summers
Keren E. Rohe

Lawrence H. Summers, former Harvard President and current Charles W. Eliot University Professor.

Treasury secretary... Harvard President... Federal Reserve chair? Speculation that the resume of University professor Lawrence H. Summers might lengthen even further swirled this week after the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that he was interested in heading the central bank. According to the Journal, some of Summers’s current and former colleagues described Summers as ambivalent about the job, while others characterized him as "hellbent" on it.

Summers, who was Harvard president from 2001 to 2006, is no stranger to the Obama administration. He was director of the National Economic Council from 2009 to 2010, a term that, according to the Journal’s anonymous source, ended with a private conversation with President Obama about Summers becoming Fed chief.

Current Fed chairman Ben S. Bernanke will finish his second four-year term on Jan. 31, and many believe that he is unlikely to seek another, which will open the door for a replacement. Late last month, several outlets reported that the White House has a shortlist of candidates for the job, but their sources did not offer names. But Summers, Fed vice chair Janet L. Yellen, former Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, and President and CEO of retirement services organization TIAA-CREF Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. are widely considered to be potential picks.

Summers’s spokesperson Kelly Friendly told Flyby on Thursday that Summers would not comment on his interest in the job or any conversations he may have had about it with Obama. And Politico reported Wednesday that Summers’s acquaintances said that he has settled into his professorship in Cambridge and has no particular desire to return to the capital.

Still, with observers in the media sharing countless opinions about whether Summers is—or should be—a frontrunner for the job, it seems unlikely that the speculation will end anytime soon.

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