WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday named a member of his inner circle as top White House economist and gave a strong personal endorsement to a leading candidate to run his new consumer protection bureau.
The president said had chosen Austan Goolsbee as the new chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) because he was a skilled communicator who already knows the rest of Obama’s top team very well.
“He’s someone who has a deep appreciation of how the economy affects everyday people, and he talks about it in a way that’s easily understood,” Obama said during a news conference to explain how his policies would boost growth and jobs.
Voter unease over the economy spells pain for Obama’s Democrats in November congressional elections and the announcement caps a week in which he visited two battleground Midwest states to unveil new economic measures.
Slowing growth as unemployment remains stuck near 10 percent has sapped Obama’s popularity and could cost Democrats control of the Congress in the November 2 poll, in which all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 37 of 100 Senate seats are up for grabs.
The appointment also provides continuity within Obama’s economic team as speculation swirls around the future of other senior White House players like chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, after a surprise vacancy opened up for mayor of Chicago.
In addition, Obama dropped a heavy hint about another key addition to his economic team, praising consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren as a ‘dear friend” as he promised a decision soon on the head of a new consumer financial protection bureau.
Goolsbee, who already serves on the CEA and as chief economist to Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, advised Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and will be an influential force at the White House.
“Austan has been one of my good friends and close economic advisors for many years. He is one of the finest economists in the country,” Obama said.
The CEA is a key source of economic policy advice for the president and its chair plays a leading role in explaining the White House’s economic message, an important job on Obama’s behalf as anxiety over the outlook hurts his approval ratings.
Goolsbee, 41, had been the strong favorite to replace outgoing chair Christina Romer after she announced her return to academia. The appointment will not require Senate confirmation since Goolsbee already has been confirmed as a member of the CEA.
A familiar face on financial news television, Goolsbee is an effective communicator with an affable style who proved that complex economics can be funny with an appearance on “The Daily Show”, the award-winning political satire show.
He has been a particularly visible presence this week, explaining the president’s latest government spending plans to boost growth and hiring.
Obama will need these persuasion skills as the White House sells his approach on the economy to skeptical voters weighing their choice between Democrats and Republicans in November.
Nearly two years into Obama’s presidential term, speculation about other changes in the White House team is mounting, particularly concerning Emanuel following the surprise decision of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to not seek reelection. Emanuel has made no secret of his desire to be Chicago’s mayor one day.
Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Leslie Adler and Tim Dobbyn