WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Friday that he's still considering a range of candidates to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve and that whoever gets the job will need to focus in the near term on reducing unemployment.
Obama said during a White House news conference that former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and current Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen are both highly qualified for the job, and that he's also considering others.
He said he'll make his decision in the fall. Obama acknowledged that many think Summers has "an inside track" to the job after Obama gave a strong defense of him last week at a closed-door meeting with House Democrats. But Obama said he was simply standing up for Summers because he was "getting slapped around in the press for no reason."
"The perception that Mr. Summers might have an inside track simply had to do with a bunch of attacks that I was hearing on Mr. Summers preemptively, which is sort of a standard Washington exercise that I don't like," Obama said.
Summers served as the head of the National Economic Council during Obama's first term and Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton. Bernanke's current term ends on Jan. 31. The president's choice to succeed Bernanke would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
In his meeting with House Democrats, Obama had said that former Fed Vice Chairman Don Kohn was also being considered for the job. The administration's search for a successor for Bernanke has been unusually public. And it has stood in stark contrast to the more behind-the-scenes process that previous administrations have used for vetting potential Fed chairmen.
A group of liberal Democratic senators has written Obama urging him to pick Yellen and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has also weighed in on Yellen's behalf. Summers has attracted support from former officials of the Clinton and Obama administrations who have said his crisis-management skills would make him the best choice.
Obama said that his main objective is to find someone who strongly supports the Fed's dual mandate of keeping inflation in check while pursuing maximum employment. But he noted that unemployment is the bigger priority right now for the economy.
"Right now the challenge is not inflation, the challenge is we've still got too many people out of work," Obama said "There's too much slack in the economy."
Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas contributed to this article.