Why Did Democrats Give Jack Lew a Pass?

While Washington was obsessing Wednesday over whether or not the oh-so-intimidating Gene Sperling had threatened Bob Woodward over his deeply misguided take on the budget sequester, another veteran Democratic number-cruncher skated by: The Senate confirmed Jack Lew to be secretary of the Treasury, by a vote of 71 to 26.

The result was hardly surprising. Republicans have had their differences with Lew over the past couple of years (as President Obama’s budget director and then chief of staff, he has been at the forefront of the incessant fiscal fight), but they made clear in recent weeks that they were going to devote most of their energies of resistance to Obama’s pick for the Pentagon, their turncoat ex-colleague Chuck Hagel. What’s striking about Lew’s smooth ascension, though, is how little protest it stirred on the left. His record from the past decade includes plenty of markings that should have given Democrats pause—and would have, surely, if the same markings had been on the resume of a Republican appointee. Among them:

1. After serving in the Clinton Administration, Lew went to work at New York University. During his tenure as executive vice president for operations, from 2001 to 2006, the university came under scrutiny for making Citigroup the “preferred lender” for students, in exchange for getting a cut of loan revenue. After then–New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo started investigating these kickbacks, NYU returned $1.4 million to students and agreed to a $2 million settlement with the state. Lew gave an awfully opaque answer in response to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s questions about the kickbacks: “I do not recall having any conversations with Citigroup officials regarding Citigroup’s selection or actions as a preferred lender for NYU students. Also I do not believe that I approved the selection of Citigroup as a preferred lender for NYU students.” Is that a no?

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