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From CEO to secretary . . . Why?

Kai Ryssdal May 30, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: We’d be lying if we said we were surprised. Rumors of John Snow’s departure from the Treasury Department have been around for months–longer,actually–but it was the name of the nominee that caught people’s eyes today.Henry Paulson has been a fixture on Wall Street for years. Not too long ago,he said he was perfectly happy where he was. Patricia Sellers is editor atlarge for Fortune magazine.

Patty, good to talk to you.

PATRICIA SELLERS: Yes, Kai. Nice to be with you.

RYSSDAL: We know why the White House wants Hank Paulson. He’s got big Streetcredibility on Wall Street. He can sell the president’s economic plan.What’s in it, though, for him?

SELLERS: I think he was asking that. You know, he really needed to bepersuaded into this job, and it all came together over the weekend when theadministration leaned pretty hard on him, so we hear. First of all, he is notyour typical Wall Street CEO. Most of these guys have some sort of civic dutythat involves going to a lot of fund-raisers and doing all sorts of socialstuff. This is a guy who has never belonged to a country club, he isn’tsocial, he doesn’t schmooze with the money crowd. His other passion besideshis work at Goldman Sachs is environmentalism, and he is obsessed with theenvironment. I don’t think even he, himself, ever thought that his, sort of,civic duty would carry him into this job.

RYSSDAL: If he doesn’t schmooze, how’s he going to make it in Washington?

SELLERS: Well, you know, it’s interesting. He doesn’t schmooze in NewYork, but he schmoozes globally. He’s made dozens and dozens of trips toChina. He’s great with political leaders all around the world. He’s verywell-connected. So in that sense, I think he’ll be a big help to theadministration.

RYSSDAL: You know, the president only has, I think, one more budget cycle togo before the end of his term. What is there now for Henry Paulson tosubstantively do?

SELLERS: Well, you know, frankly, I don’t think anybody really knowsbecause he isn’t a public Bush booster or critic. He’s been very quiet, verycarefully quiet on the administration and his opinions of it. You know, theTreasury position has been a bit, sort of, anemic for the last several years.So I think we’re–you know, we’re all asking what is the substantive role ofthe Treasury secretary? And I think that’s one reason that–that Hank Paulsonresisted because he wasn’t sure that it was that substantive, and I think hewas guaranteed that it will be.

RYSSDAL: What kind of substance can he really do? I mean, what’s your takeon the–on the deal that he must have made with the president?

SELLERS: You know, it’s a really good question, and we don’t know. Ithink that he–I think that his purview of Treasury secretary will be broaderthan–than John Snow had. And, you know, it’s–it’s interesting. This is aman who is incapable of not saying what he believes and, you know, onething–one thing I’m sure of, and this is a little bit of an odd thing to say,but he will be leaning on Bush hard on his environmental policy.


SELLERS: And, you know, he’s not going to get up there as the Treasurysecretary and–and speak publicly about the environment, but inside the WhiteHouse, he’s going to be talking quite a bit about that, I think. Hank Paulsonwill be approved as the Treasury secretary. I think that the administrationwill score points for it. It’s a coup for getting this guy, the most admiredWall Street executive, and you know, this will be a boost for Bush. This isa–this is a big coup for them.

RYSSDAL: Patty Sellers from Fortune magazine. Patty, thanks for your time.

SELLERS: Thank you.

RYSSDAL: Far be it for us to bring Mr. Paulson down on his big day, but weare obliged to point out here that Wall Street didn’t give him much of awelcome. It will be the very sad music when we get there.

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