December 10th, 2008
05:40 PM ET
14 years ago

Officials: Chu likely to be named as energy secretary

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Chu is Obama's choice for energy secretary, sources tell CNN."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama is likely to name Dr. Steven Chu, a physicist who runs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his new Energy Secretary, three Democratic officials close to the transition told CNN.

The three officials said the announcement is expected to come next week in Chicago and that Obama will also unveil Carol Browner, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration, as the newly-created "climate czar" inside the White House itself.

Chu won the 1997 Nobel prize in physics and is highly respected in energy circles. But some Democrats have privately expressed concern that Chu has no political experience as he takes on the monumental task of passing a landmark energy reform bill early next year.

While Browner is seen as a shrewd inside player who could help the incoming Energy Secretary navigate Capitol Hill, Obama will face questions about how effective his team will be going up against oil companies and other special interests that do not want to change the status quo.

"Energy is going to be a huge fight," said one Democratic official close to the transition. "They need someone with the gravitas and force of
personality to make it happen."

Democrats in recent days have privately floated some other big names for Energy Secretary, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But a source close to Schwarzenegger told CNN that the governor wants to serve out the rest of his term in the Golden State. A source close to Powell told CNN the retired general will take "no formal Cabinet role" in an Obama administration, but is leaving the door open to an informal troubleshooting role - such as Mideast envoy - if the incoming president has a specific mission that needs to be filled.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama
soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. doug

    The good thing about picking Chu is that he has his own clothes and does not need a $50k makeup artist!

    December 10, 2008 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  2. Kelly

    I think this would be a great pick, someone with educational expertise in energy. No matter who Obama picks, half the country won't agree anyway so keep up the good work.

    December 10, 2008 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  3. Sean in DC

    what a novel concept: picking someone who is a qualified expert in the field of energy and physics instead of a politician who has become "enitiled" to the post.

    December 10, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  4. larry det, mi

    Finally someone with knowhow, and not someone's political golf buddy.

    December 10, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  5. Bob

    I didn't vote for Obama, but now that he's President I'm supporting him...we all need to do this, while at the same time of course holding him accountable (just as accountable as you Dems hold/held Bush! 🙂 ).

    So far, I like what he's doing. He should pick a few more Republicans as well, but think about it...he's picking the best people, not just political hacks.

    I personally don't like his stance on some issues (e.g., gun control, etc.) but if you think about it, isn't what he's doing what most of us always envisioned a President as doing? Picking the best people for the jobs, governing from the middle, recognizing that we all have to work together, etc.

    It's easy to be jaded, but think about this. What would people's reactions be if the "ideal" President came along? Most people are so cynical that we'd never give the person a chance. I think we need to a) work together and stop being so pissy, b) recognize we can't always get our way–that America needs to be about compromise vs. always getting "our way", and c) give Obama a chance.

    If you've read Tom Clancy's "Executive Decision" (I think that's the one), you'll note that when Jack Ryan became President, the Washington insiders on both sides couldn't stand it when he was just being a high integrity guy, and they tried to barbeque him for it. Let's not let the same thing happen in real life.

    Thus far, I couldn't ask him to be doing anything better than what he is.

    December 10, 2008 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  6. Bob


    If you'll reflect back on previous blogs from the past year (and even going forward) I think you'll find plenty of pissiness, bile and venom on both sides of the political aisle. There are just as many juvenile, mean-spirited Dems as there are Repubs. We need to bury the hatchet and start working together.

    December 10, 2008 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  7. voter

    this is an excellent pick and totally suprised. Earlier today the media said one of clinton's cronies was going to be energy sec. Chu is unexpected and change I can believe in.

    December 10, 2008 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  8. Bob

    Hey folks, remember too that the media has one job...just one. Garner interest in their message. It USED to be to report the news, but now it's simply to have people read what is written and listen to what is said. They have to say stuff like this, even when it's just sad that they do so.

    We need the smartest, most able people to do these jobs, and we need FEWER Washington insiders on both sides of the aisle. Keep in mind that these insiders will be threatened BIG TIME by the outsiders and will do whatever they can to keep their power. Any guesses as to WHO had the "concern" about Chu? Insiders.

    We need Chu and others like him. With few exceptions (mostly party hacks) the vast vast majority of Americans want to do what's right for the country, NOT just what's right for their political party and power. We need many more people like Chu, not less.

    December 10, 2008 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  9. petena

    Fantastic choice! Obama is going to have a great team. Lots of diversity, experienced politicians and inexperienced politicians, democrats, Republicans, Independent. Its about qualifications and bringing the right people together not about bringing only his good old boys network.

    December 10, 2008 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  10. Charles

    I'm an energy science and have attended several talks by Steve Chu, and while I think there are worse choices out there, I'm not sure Chu is the best.

    Chu won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for trapping atoms with lasers. I'm not exactly sure how this qualifies him to be the front man on energy research, since some of the ideas he suggests are sort of concerning. For instance, in one talk on alternative forms of energy the nuclear physicist not once mentioned type IV nuclear reactors. He's also been a strong proponent of CORN-based ethanol, which basically every energy scientist agrees is a bad idea (ethanol is a good idea, but CORN is too water and energy intensive to grow).

    There's this idea that just because someone is a scientist, they are knowledgeable in all areas of science. However, at the top the knowledge-base is actually remarkably narrow. There are some great energy scientists out there (mostly chemists, biochemists, and materials engineers), but Chu did not make his name in this field. He made his name in nuclear and particle physics, which USES lots of energy, but is not energy science.

    I will agree that he is a better choice than, say, the CEO of Exxon or maybe even some of the politicians out there. But I don't think he's the best choice if he was only picked because he was a scientist.

    December 10, 2008 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  11. Reese, MI

    Kudos to Obama for picking bright people to do the job. I hope Chu is good with people because the government is a different animal.

    December 10, 2008 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  12. Pat in IL

    Brilliant! It's very refreshing to see somebody in a job in Washington who actually knows his subject. If he isn't "political" enough, not to worry, because there are plenty of people who can be his political voice if necessary. It's just good to know that an expert is filling the job.

    December 10, 2008 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  13. Ricky

    Im excited for January 20th!

    December 10, 2008 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  14. redneck in nyc

    who suggested arnold and where can i sign up to slap them

    December 10, 2008 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  15. Marcelo

    "Some Democrats say..."

    Way to undercut the choice with anonymous sources that have no accountability for the smear. Why do you always have to push the idea that Democrats fight amongst themselves?

    Some readers say that CNN has crappy reporting.

    It's a great pick. Too bad you can't report it well.

    December 10, 2008 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  16. yellow dog democrat

    Obama's popularity is rising even among those who didn't vote for him! His choices for his Administration and Cabinet are just one of the reasons for this. I personally love the diversity of ideas that are being represented and of course the intelligence! A tough team for tough times!

    December 10, 2008 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  17. Annie, Atlanta

    Let's hope if Dr. Chu is named he has the smarts to be able to navigate the political world, as well.

    December 10, 2008 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  18. Give Me A Break!

    I am sick and tired of career politicians and their comments regarding experience. Experience is what caused this economic disaster. Everyone from Bush (Governor, Oilman, Baseball team owner and failure with all the above), Alaska Senator Stevens( 80 yrs in the senate and all the experienced CEO and Wall Street big shots have proven that experience means NOTHING. Give the fresh faces a shot for crying out loud!

    December 10, 2008 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  19. Edisto

    We need the most qualified people that can help us solve the tough challenges – not just connected politicians. Thank you President-elect for getting this novel concept!

    December 10, 2008 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  20. snugglebunny

    This is Obamas best pick so far.

    December 10, 2008 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  21. science

    wow, I am impressed. Really, it the type of politician like Obama to recognize that some jobs shouldn't be done by politicians. and a "wow" . . . "so surprised" politicians think this wouldn't be a smart move.

    no,no we need someone with a great smile and connections to "push things through". . . what does a N. L. Physicist know about bringing our country into unknown future technologies?! No, we need a slick talking politician who cares more about poll numbers that physics.

    An inspired choice.

    December 10, 2008 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  22. GuyInVA

    Let me guess. This cabinet nomination is – drum roll please – "Historical". Just another mile marker on the road to Rushmore.

    December 10, 2008 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  23. adam

    hes bringing brains back into the white house, its definitely good morning in america!

    December 10, 2008 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  24. Like it

    I like this choice. I remember in his second debate with Sen. McCain, Pres. Elect Obama said when asked that his priorities outside of fixing the economy will be:
    1. Energy
    2. Healthcare
    3. Education

    Three positions yet to be filled. Tom Dashle for Health & Health Services and Dr. Chu for Energy sounds really good to me. As far as Education goes, I would like to see him reach out as well. So far – excellent choices.

    December 10, 2008 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
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