By Sara Jerome - 03/08/11 04:15 PM EST
The White House is considering FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski as a potential successor to Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce, according to tech industry sources and prominent Democrats close to the White House.
Genachowski is among a list of names the White House has floated internally, along with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, other government officials, and top business executives, the sources said.
Locke will reportedly succeed the former Republican governor of Utah Jon Huntsman Jr. as ambassador to China. That creates an opening at the Commerce Department.
Genachowski has been close to Obama since law school and campaigned for him in 2008. His ties to business executives could be an asset as the administration seeks to improve relations with industry.
"He's not coming late to the party on spending time with CEOs and the private sector," said a prominent Democrat familiar with White House deliberations. "He's been doing that for two years. What people on the far left gave him grief for is actually an asset to being Commerce secretary."
What's more, Genachowski and some White House officials may have a mind-meld on another topic: a desire to move him out of the FCC.
Making him Commerce Secretary would allow him to leave on a positive note, which the White House has unquestionably wished for during moments of Genachowski's tenure. Sources said the White House would like to see a more decision-oriented FCC chairman who manages to incubate industry skirmishes at the agency rather than allowing them to seep over to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Others questioned, however, why Obama would want to nominate someone for the Cabinet who has become a polarizing figure on the right. He has been criticized for passing net neutrality regulations.
The feat notably accomplished an Obama campaign promise and ruffled feathers on both sides in part because Genachowski took a moderate approach that ultimately won industry support.
Meanwhile, it's been no secret that Genachowski may want to move on after a tenure characterized by nearly-constant acrimony and a few trips to Capitol Hill to take fire from House Republicans. Genachowski has tangled with Senate Democrats as well.
The ceremonial duties of the Commerce Secretary position, which is heavy on promotion for the president's agenda, might better suit his skill set, according to industry sources. His focus on unleashing innovation syncs with the White House's strong interest this year in promoting the technology industry, sources noted.
Musical chairs at the FCC may make Genachowski and even more attractive pick, several sources said. Republican Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker and an as-yet-unannounced successor for Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps will need to make their way through Senate confirmation in the coming months, and a new chairman could be packaged as part of the process.
Jessica Rosenworcel, the top telecom aide to Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va), is widely cited as a likely pick to replace Copps. A top position for his aide might encourage Rockefeller to support Genachowski for Commerce Secretary. Rosenworcel could be in the running for FCC chair if Genachowski leaves, sources said.