President Obama on Monday nominated MIT professor Ernest Moniz as energy secretary, Environmental Protection Agency official Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator and Wal-Mart executive Sylvia Mathews Burwell as White House budget director.
In a ceremony at the White House with all three nominees, Obama hailed their predecessors and said he was confident that their successors would pursue his administration’s goals of achieving energy independence, creating more clean-energy jobs, fighting climate change and reigniting economic growth.
Moniz, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who served in the Bill Clinton administration, lends Obama’s Cabinet scientific heft and brings prior Washington experience. At MIT, he directed the school’s Energy Initiative, where he oversaw reports on almost every aspect of energy.
Obama hailed Moniz on Monday as “another brilliant scientist” who already “knows his way around the Department of Energy. If confirmed, Moniz would replace Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
“Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate,” Obama said.
Burwell, head of Wal-Mart’s philanthropic efforts, is a veteran of President Bill Clinton’s economic team. If confirmed by the Senate, she will replace Jeffrey Zients as director of the Office of Management and Budget, bringing gender diversity as well as corporate experience to Obama’s inner circle at a time of budget battles with Congress.
Burwell is president of the Walmart Foundation, one of the nation’s biggest corporate philanthropies, which supports such initiatives as women’s economic empowerment, hunger relief and environmental sustainability.
Obama praised Burwell as “the right person to continue Jeff’s great work” at OMB. He noted that in the 1990s, she served under Jack Lew as deputy director of OMB and was “part of a team that presided over three budget surpluses in a row” during the Clinton administration.
“Later, she helped the Gates Foundation grow into a global force for good, and then she helped the Walmart Foundation expand its charitable work,” Obama said. “So Sylvia knows her way around a budget.”
As the granddaughter of Greek immigrants, Burwell “also understands that our goal when we put together a budget is not just to make the numbers add up,” the president said. “Our goal is also to reignite the true engine of economic growth in this country, and that is a strong and growing middle class — to offer ladders of opportunity for anybody willing to climb them.”
Obama also used the ceremony to address once more the deep, automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester, that are taking effect this month after the administration and congressional Republicans failed to agree on a plan to head them off.
Zients and Burwell “will do everything in their power to blunt the impact of these cuts on businesses and middle-class families,” Obama said. “But eventually, a lot of people are going to feel some pain. That’s why we’ve got to keep on working to reduce our deficit in a balanced way — an approach that’s supported by the majority of the American people, including a majority of Republicans. And I’m confident that we can get there if people of goodwill come together.”
In a statement Sunday, Mike Duke, president and chief executive of Wal-Mart, said, “Sylvia does a great job leading the Walmart Foundation, and if confirmed by the Senate, will do a tremendous job serving our country.”
Obama’s selection of a woman to fill one of his top economic positions comes after he faced criticism earlier in his second term for appointing men to many of his administration’s top posts, including White House Chief of Staff Denis R. McDonough, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
The president said his choice of McCarthy, who heads the EPA’s air and radiation office, as the agency’s next administrator would help promote renewable energy programs. He said that as a top environmental official in Massachusetts and Connecticut, she helped design such programs.
“As assistant EPA administrator, Gina has focused on practical, cost-effective ways to keep our air clean and our economy growing,” Obama said. “She’s earned a reputation as a straight shooter. She welcomes different points of views.
McCarthy, who would replace former EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson, helped usher through many of the EPA’s most contentious rules during Obama’s first term, including regulations curbing mercury and soot emissions from power plants. But she has also cultivated a strong working relationship with members of the business community, dampening much of the opposition her selection might otherwise have encountered.