US President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Jack Lew was confirmed on Wednesday as the next US treasury secretary, taking over a key portfolio at a time of deadlock over the US budget and debt.
The US Senate voted 71-26 – with support from 20 Republicans – to confirm Lew, a former White House budget director and Wall Street executive, providing Obama with a second new cabinet appointment approval in as many days.
The Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon, after a contentious, seven-week process.
While Hagel’s confirmation was marked by partisan acrimony and delays, Lew’s nomination by contrast sailed through, just one day after the Finance Committee gave its approval.
The president issued a swift thanks to the Senate for its bipartisan action.
“At this critical time for our economy and our country, there is no one more qualified for this position than Jack,” Obama said in a statement shortly after the vote.
“As my chief of staff, Jack was by my side as we confronted our nation’s toughest challenges,” Obama said, hailing Lew as “a master of fiscal issues who can work with leaders on both sides of the aisle.”
“I will continue to rely on his advice and sound judgment as we work to create good, middle-class jobs, provide more people with the skills those jobs require, and ensure every hardworking American can earn a decent living.”
The nomination was not without some hiccups. Some Republicans, notably Senator Jeff Sessions, highlighted Lew’s reputation as a dogged defender of Democratic party stances in budget negotiations with White House opponents.
And one senator who caucuses with the Democrats, independent Bernie Sanders, voted against Lew.
Lew, 57, is a longtime Democratic stalwart who worked under president Bill Clinton in the Office of Management and Budget after an earlier start as a congressional aide and as an attorney in the private sector.
In 2001 he moved to New York University, and then in 2006 was recruited by Citigroup, where for two years he was chief operating officer in the alternative investments unit.
The huge payout he received when he left the bank to join the Obama administration, a bonus reportedly stipulated by his contract, sparked questions that he is too close to the banks and would be too accepting of the practices that stoked the financial crisis.
Lew is expected to be sworn in on Thursday morning.