Obama lame ducks flock to Davos: Looking for jobs?

Washington heavyweights descended in huge numbers on Davos this year with six Cabinet secretaries and Vice President Joe Biden all bending elbows and making speeches at the annual World Economic Forum schmoozefest in the Swiss Alps.

The big delegation makes sense from a geopolitical perspective given all the current unrest in the Middle East, plunging oil prices, fears of a global economic slowdown and all the rest. But in the final year of the Obama administration, the gathering of financial potentates also provides an excellent opportunity for big names leaving political office next year to network for new jobs.

Vice President Joe Biden addresses attendees during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland , on Jan. 20, 2016.
Ruben Sprich | Reuters
Vice President Joe Biden addresses attendees during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland , on Jan. 20, 2016.

Remember that Eric Cantor, the former House majority leader, became a regular at Davos before landing at boutique investment bank Moelis & Co. That's not to say that any of the top administration figures at the event — Biden, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Loretta Lynch — will wind up on Wall Street or anywhere in corporate America next year. But it's a safe bet that all of them will draw major interest from the huge roster of corporate CEOs and top bankers making the rounds of cocktail parties and dinners at Davos. If you want to ensure a soft landing after leaving office, you don't get a better networking opportunity.

The U.S. delegation at Davos also includes HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and USAID Administrator Gayle Smith,. There are at least two governors attending — Gregory Abbott of Texas and John Hickenlooper of Colorado — and five senators and eight congressmen, including current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa from California.

To be sure, the big names from the Obama administration have plenty of official duties at Davos. Biden offered remarks — added at the list minute — in his new role as "cancer czar" charged with charting a course to curing the disease at long last. But according to various news reports, attendees were skeptical of how much Biden could achieve in the final year of a lame-duck administration.

Kerry, fresh off the release of prisoners in Iran and completion of a landmark nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on the longtime U.S. adversary, spoke about the possibility that sanctions could also soon be lifted against Russia if it behaves itself in Ukraine.


Treasury Secretary Lew tried to calm the gathered masters of the universe about recent turmoil in global markets amid a slowdown in China and plunging oil prices. "I know it's been bumpy days in the market, but I try to look beyond the hour to hour, day to day, to what the big trends are," he said in remarks Thursday. "I'm not minimizing that it's been choppy in the markets, but I think you do need to look at some of these underlying trends in a long-term way."

And Lew, like all the other Cabinet secretaries in attendance, had plenty of meetings with foreign counterparts very much focused on issues of the day. But all of the current administration officials will be on the job market in less than a year. Some could wind up in the next White House, especially if Hillary Clinton becomes president. Some, especially independently wealthy officials like Kerry and Pritzker, could go to think tanks or academia or wherever else they want.


Sec. Carter: There will be boots on the ground
Sec. Carter: There will be boots on the ground   

But many will undoubtedly be looking to pivot back to the private sector to earn some real money after their time in government. And if you want to find the money, Davos is certainly a very good place to look. The roster of attendees includes 1,500 business leaders from 1,000 different companies. The CEO list runs from Wall Street (JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon and Blackstone's Steve Schwarzman, among many others) to Main Street (GM's Mary Barra and many more) to high tech (Microsoft's Satya Nadella and Cisco's John Chambers to name just two). There are private equity and hedge fund managers galore, not to mention venture capitalists of every possible stripe.

It's probably a safe bet to assume that at least some members of the massive U.S. delegation will return home with both happy memories of snowy peaks and some fresh leads on where to work once their days in the White House are over.


— Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.