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Obama Names Richardson To Commerce Post

As advertised, President-elect Obama on Wednesday announced his choice for secretary of Commerce: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

The affable Richardson stood beside Obama at the Chicago hotel where the president-elect has been orchestrating his transition to the White House.

"Bill has seen what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better," Obama said. Richardson brings "an international stature" and "a deep understanding of the global economy."

Richardson — speaking in English and in Spanish — delivered his thanks to Obama and his pledge to help the country.

With the choice of Richardson, Obama adds another former political adversary to his inner circle, which includes Sen. Joseph Biden as vice president and Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Richardson, Biden and Clinton all ran unsuccessfully against Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Richardson withdrew early on and endorsed Obama.

"This is a great honor," Richardson said. He added that he is not a former rival of Obama's but a former competitor.

The nod to Richardson appears to address anxieties on several levels. The border-state governor is a high-profile Hispanic politician who has domestic and international experience. Richardson served as Energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton.

Like clockwork, the announcement was made with a reassuring air. Obama — starting a few minutes early — exuded confidence while nominating a former political adversary to a Cabinet position. Again on the TV screen the president's face was framed by news of a volatile stock market and unrest in other parts of the world.

America's standing in the world, Obama said, is essential "to our security" and "to our prosperity."

He spoke calming words: "We have everything we need to renew our economy."

Richardson, who occasionally sports a beard, appeared clean-shaven for the press conference.

"I think it was a mistake to get rid of it," Obama said in response to a question. The rugged Western look was working for Richardson, he said, reiterating that he was "deeply disappointed with the loss of the beard."

Smiling, Obama pointed out that Richardson was a habitue of the cafeteria while at the United Nations, "mixing it up with U.N. employees over lunch." And Obama said that during the 2002 New Mexico gubernatorial campaign, Richardson "actually broke a world record by shaking nearly 14,000 hands in just eight hours."

In a brief question-and-answer period after the announcement, Obama was asked about the possibility of Congress rescuing the ailing U.S. auto industry. Automakers are asking Congress for a lifeline of up to $34 billion.

Obama said that any plan would have to be "based on realistic assessments of what the auto market is going to be and a realistic plan for how we're going to make these companies viable over the long term."

Mixing jocularity with wonkiness, Obama also answered a couple of questions on the Troubled Assets Relief Program, saying that until he has more information at his fingertips it would be premature to comment on decisions on the financial rescue plan being made by the Bush administration.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.