Richardson Appointed Commerce Secretary
Updated 12:57 p.m.
By Peter Slevin
CHICAGO -- President-elect Barack Obama nominated New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former political opponent, to be commerce secretary this morning.
Obama said Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and international negotiator, will be "a leading economic diplomat for America." He will also be a domestic strategist as Obama wrestles with the declining U.S. economy, Obama said.
"Bill Richardson is a leader who shares my values, and he measures progress the same way I do: Are we creating good jobs instead of losing them? Are incomes growing instead of shrinking?" Obama told reporters at a Chicago news conference.
Richardson, a former member of Congress and energy secretary whose endorsement of Obama during the Democratic primary was considered valuable in attracting Hispanic voters, emphasized the "new future of energy independence and clean energy jobs."
Switching from English to Spanish, he thanked Hispanics for their support and confidence and said the strong turnout for Obama demonstrated strength and unity. He also said he intended to strengthen connections between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Richardson is the third Democratic presidential candidate to be invited to join Obama's team, following Vice President-elect Joe Biden and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, nominated Monday to be secretary of state.
A reporter asked Obama whether Commerce was a consolation prize for Hispanics and Richardson, who had made no secret of his desire to be the nation's top diplomat. Obama emphasized the commerce secretary's role in the economy and said Richardson was "the best person for that job."
"When people look back and see the entire slate," Obama went on, "what they will say -- not only in terms of my Cabinet, but in terms of my White House staff -- I think people are going to say this is one of the most diverse Cabinets and White House staffs of all time.
"But more importantly, they are going to say these are all people of outstanding qualifications and excellence," Obama said. "One of the strong beliefs that I've always held and has been proven to be correct throughout my career is there's no contradiction between diversity and excellence."
Richardson appeared alongside Obama in the Chicago Hilton conference room where the president-elect has been announcing his Cabinet choices. As they stood before eight American flags, each man wore a flag pin in his lapel.
For good measure, Richardson wore a tie dotted with tiny American flags.
Amid questions about the economy and the rescue package, a reporter asked the clean-shaven Richardson why he had recently lost his thick beard.
Before Richardson could speak, Obama interjected with mock seriousness, "I think it was a mistake for him to get rid of it. I thought that whole Western rugged look was really working for him.
"For some reason, maybe because it was scratchy when he kissed his wife, he was forced to get rid of it," Obama said, "but we're deeply disappointed with the loss of the beard."
Richardson, 61, was a seven-term member of Congress who gave up his eighth term when he was appointed U.N. ambassador by President Bill Clinton in December 1996. He has been elected twice as New Mexico's governor.
The Republican National Committee branded Richardson's selection as evidence that Obama, elected on a platform of change, is bringing no such thing to the White House.
"Nothing says 'change' like nominating another consummate Washington insider and former Clinton cabinet member to serve as your commerce secretary," RNC spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson said in an e-mailed statement. " 'Change' in an Obama administration certainly looks like more of the same."
Obama's prepared remarks announcing the nomination follow:
Last week, Vice President-Elect Biden and I began the process of announcing our economic team. Today, we are pleased to name another key member of this team: our nominee for Secretary of Commerce, my friend, Governor Bill Richardson.
With each passing day, the work our team has begun, developing plans to revive our economy, becomes more urgent. Earlier this week, we learned that the U.S. economy has been in recession since December of 2007 and that our manufacturing output is at a 26 year low - two stark reminders of the magnitude of the challenges we face.
But while I know rebuilding our economy won't be easy - and it won't happen overnight - I also know this: right now, somewhere in America, a small business is at work on the next big idea. A scientist is on the cusp of the next breakthrough discovery. An entrepreneur is sketching plans for the startup that will revolutionize an industry. Right now, across America, the finest products in the world are rolling off our assembly lines. And the proudest, most determined, most productive workers in the world are on the job - some, already on their second shift of the day; many, putting in longer hours than ever before.
After nearly two years traveling across this country, meeting with workers, visiting businesses large and small, I am more confident than ever before that we have everything we need to renew our economy - we have the ingenuity and technology, the skill and commitment - we just need to put it to work. It's time to not just address our immediate economic threats, but to start laying the groundwork for long-term economic prosperity - to help American businesses grow and thrive at home, and expand our efforts to promote American enterprise around the world.
This work is the core mission of the Secretary of Commerce. And with his breadth and depth of experience in public life, Governor Richardson is uniquely suited for this role as a leading economic diplomat for America.
During his time in state government and Congress, and in two tours of duty in the cabinet, Bill has seen from just about every angle what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better.
As Governor of New Mexico, Bill showed how government can act as a partner to support our businesses, helping create 80,000 new jobs. And under his leadership, New Mexico saw the lowest unemployment rate in decades.
As a former Secretary of Energy, Bill understands the steps we must take to build a new, clean-energy industry and create the green jobs of the twenty-first century. Jobs that pay well and won't be shipped overseas - jobs that will help us end our dependence on foreign oil.
And as a former Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill brings both international stature and a deep understanding of today's global economy. He understands that the success of today's business in Detroit or Columbus often depends on whether it can sell products in places like Santiago or Shanghai. And he knows that America's reputation in the world is critical not just to our security, but to our prosperity - that when the citizens of the world respect America's leadership, they are more likely to buy America's products.
To this crucial work of restoring America's international standing, Bill will bring a leadership style all his own. Bill has never been content to learn just from briefing books - never satisfied with only the official version of the story. During his time in Congress, he held more than 2,500 town-hall meetings, so he could hear directly from constituents. He was a regular in the U.N. cafeteria, mixing it up with U.N. employees over lunch. And during his 2002 campaign for Governor, he actually broke a world record by shaking nearly 14,000 hands in just eight hours.
All of this reflects a determination to reach out and understand where people are coming from, what they hope for, and what he can do to help. This approach, I believe, has been the key to Bill's success as a negotiator and will be key to his work on the critical functions of the Commerce Department - from administering our census and monitoring our climate to protecting our intellectual property and restoring our economic diplomacy.
In the end, Bill Richardson is a leader who shares my values -- and he measures progress the same way I do. Are we creating good jobs, instead of losing them? Are incomes growing, instead of shrinking? I know that Bill will be an unyielding advocate for American business and American jobs, at home and around the world. And I look forward to working with him in the years ahead.
Posted at 11:57 AM ET on Dec 3, 2008
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