NEAL CONAN, host:
Now to the White House. Here in Washington, DC, President Bush emerged into the Oval Office about, oh, an hour and 15 minutes ago to nominate Ben Bernanke as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Alan Greenspan, who's served in that post for more than 18 years, steps down at the end of January. Bernanke is a former member of the Fed's Board of Governors. He's current chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. And joining us from the White House now is NPR White House correspondent David Greene.
Nice to have you with us.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Good to be here, Neal.
CONAN: What do we know about Ben Bernanke?
GREENE: Well, we'd like to know a lot more. You know, being a governor on the Fed is not a job in which you go public that often. The president brought him to the White House early in the summer to serve as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, but we didn't see much of him in that job either, and you look back over the president's term, and when there were times of recession and times when the president really wanted to try and put a public face on the White House economic policy, you saw more of his economic advisers. The past few months there have been hurricanes, there have been other priorities, the war in Iraq. There hasn't been that need. You haven't seen a lot of him. You did see Ben Bernanke show up in Crawford, Texas, at a briefing for reporters right near the president's ranch, and that's the first time at least the White House press corps got a sense for him, and it was very interesting. Very academic. It was almost like we received a lecture on economics from someone who knows the subject quite well.
CONAN: When Mr. Bernanke was appointed to be the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers at the White House less than a year ago, it was widely seen as a, well, sort of trial run to see how well the White House--the president liked him as the possibility of his replacing Mr. Greenspan. In accepting the nomination at the Oval Office today, Mr. Bernanke said his first priority would be continuity with Mr. Greenspan's policies.
GREENE: And obviously that was an important message for him to deliver to be sure, when talking about the markets and what the reaction might be. You said it was a test run and I think that is a very strong possibility, that President Bush has--we've seen in Harriet Miers, his Supreme Court nomination, in Alberto Gonzales, in Condoleezza Rice, members of his Cabinet, he puts people in important positions who he knows very well. Even John Roberts, the chief justice, he brought him to the White House and wanted to have some close, heart-to-heart meetings with him before he named him. And you would like--you could speculate that the president thought about this nomination, thought that Dr. Bernanke was his guy, and then he decided to put him in a White House job for a few months.
Of course, the other possibility is the president was getting ready to respond to any criticism that might exist from his conservative base and from Republicans about whether Ben Bernanke is political enough, and bringing him into a job at the White House that is political could be one way to appease those critics.
CONAN: Well, is he seen as a supporter of administration policy, for example, on borrowing, on tax cuts?
GREENE: He is. I mean, being in that job, you almost have to be seen as an ally. The one message that Dr. Bernanke has really gotten out was the concern that the president has had over the rising cost of health care, and he has stuck to that message closely. In that briefing in Crawford, Texas, reporters, as they always do, were trying to get behind the numbers that the economic advisers were presenting. You know, what's really causing this? Why are you so worried about rising health care now? And Dr. Bernanke basically said, `You know, I'm an economist. I talk in statistics. This is happening.' Talked in very simple terms, but no doubt supportive of the president's policies.
CONAN: And in terms of response, well, we saw the Dow Jones industrial average jump about 16 points as soon as word of the nomination leaked out. We've also had pretty good political response on both sides of the aisle in Congress. The--Charles Schumer, who's a Democrat, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, said, `We need a careful, non-ideological person who understands that the Federal Reserve's main job is to fight inflation. Ben Bernanke seems to fit that bill.' And Republicans, too, have been very positive in terms of his nomination.
GREENE: That's right. We just saw a statement from Senator Richard Shelby, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, the Republican from Alabama. He predicted that the nominee's gonna be well received by everyone on his committee, and the Bank of England governor, Mervyn King, welcomed the nomination, but also said that it's not going to be easy to follow in Alan Greenspan's footsteps, and I think that's a message you're gonna be hearing from people as well as they begin to react.
CONAN: The chairman of the Federal Reserve often described as the second-most powerful job in Washington. David Greene, thanks very much for being with us.
GREENE: My pleasure, Neal.
CONAN: David Greene is NPR's White House correspondent and he talked to us from our bureau--our closet there, to be more accurate.
Coming up after the break, the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court has sparked a re-examination of the role of faith in public life, that after President Bush said that part of the reason he nominated Harriet Miers to the job was because of her religion. Former Senator John Danforth, current Senator Joseph Lieberman, Congressman Thomas Tancredo will join us to talk about where they draw the line. We also want to hear from you as well: (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org. A discussion on religion and politics next on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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