Obama nominates former Washington governor as commerce secretary
Former Washington state governor Gary Locke was nominated by US President Barack Obama as commerce secretary on Wednesday, making him Obama's third choice for one of the remaining vacancies in his cabinet, dpa reported.
Locke, a 59-year-old Democrat, became the country's first Chinese- American governor when he was elected to the post in 1996 and served two four-year terms.
He is known as a pragmatic centrist who specialized in China affairs as governor and while working for a Seattle law firm over the last few years. Washington's economy is heavily dependent on foreign trade, and Locke visited China repeatedly during his time leading the north-western coastal state.
Obama has struggled to fill the commerce post. His two previous choices pulled their names from consideration before they were confirmed by the Senate, leaving the position open more than one month into the president's new administration.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was forced to withdraw in December over a lobbying scandal in his home state.
New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg was chosen in Richardson's place and would have become the third Republican in Obama's cabinet. But Gregg withdrew just days after being nominated, citing philosophical differences with the Democratic administration.
The Commerce Department's tasks include increasing trade within the United States and managing free-trade agreements and economic relations with other countries. It also holds sway over a variety of smaller government agencies, including weather monitoring and the population census.
Locke's appointment, which will still have to be confirmed by the Senate, would fill out Obama's economic team led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and top White House advisor Larry Summers.
Locke would become the third Asian-American in Obama's cabinet, together with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The president's other outstanding cabinet position is health secretary, a crucial post as Obama has vowed to reform the health care system - one of the world's costliest - during his first term in office.
Obama's first choice for the post, former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, was forced to withdraw over a tax scandal.