Blog: Chris Lu — Obama’s inner circle

Chris Lu and Mark Mitsui, president of North Seattle Community College (Photo by Rebecca Ip/SCP)

President George W. Bush appointed two Asian Americans to his cabinet. The Asian community was impressed. But President Obama gave us more—three cabinet secretaries, Gary Locke, Steve Chu, and Secretary Eric Shinseki, and many other powerful appointments, including Chris Lu, one of the 25 assistants to the president since 2008.

Lu was in Seattle last Friday, addressing the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders at  North Seattle Community College. I had the opportunity to interview him.

Lu is not only working for the president, he’s working inside the White House on the second floor of the West Wing. Being cabinet secretary, representing 25 to 30 government agencies, is a demanding job.  Lu said his job is to make sure all the agencies are “on the same page“ in terms of communication to the public and what should be kept secret.

Who’s Chris Lu

Lu and Obama went to Harvard Law School together and graduated in the same year.

Obama did not go straight to law school after receiving his bachelor’s degree.

Lu is one of the longest tenured staff members for Obama. He graduated from Princeton University and was then-Senator Obama’s legislative director and acting chief of staff in 2004. After Obama’s successful presidential campaign, Lu was appointed executive director of the Obama-Biden Transition Project in 2008. His parents were originally from China and later moved to Taiwan. He’s one of those Chinese American kids who went to Sunday Chinese school when he was little. Later, he took Mandarin in college. He said he understands Mandarin but doesn’t speak it.

When asked his Chinese name, he quickly wrote his name in Chinese characters. His name is composed of difficult characters.

On Gary Locke

Was there another candidate besides Gary Locke being considered for the U.S. Ambassador to China?

“The president only had one person in mind (when this position opened), Gary Locke,” said Lu. “He’s the best person (for the job).”

Incidentally, the White House staff was thinking the same thing. Locke was the first choice for the job, according to Lu.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is Lu’s role model. He long admired Locke when he was governor, and now he is happy that he gets to work with Locke.

“He’s still the only Chinese American governor (in the U.S.),” said Lu.

In 2009, Lu went to China, his native land, for the first time with Locke and Chu.

Lu said being with Locke and Chu was like “winning the Super Bowl.” “Everywhere Locke and Chu, a Nobel Prize laureate, went, they were treated like “rock stars.”

On dealing with the Chinese government

Many of China’s bloggers think that Chinese Americans should be loyal to China, their motherland.

Yet Lu recalled meeting high-level Chinese officials when he, Locke, and Chu traveled to China in 2009.  “We look like them (Chinese officials), but we were not easy on them.  They know where we stand.” Lu added. ♦

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Photos on flickr