When Mr. Obama named his economic team last November, even some within his circle questioned whether Mr. Summers, given his prickly personality, could be an honest broker of other advisers’ ideas, as National Economic Council directors are supposed to be. Mr. Summers also had made it clear that he wanted to be Treasury secretary again, as he was in the Clinton administration.
As messy as the process has sometimes been, officials say Mr. Summers and his colleagues have worked through their differences. Often arriving and leaving in the dark, sustained by coffee and the Diet Cokes that fill Mr. Summers’s office refrigerator, they have produced in six months an array of economic rescue plans that would be daunting if spread over six years. With those, and the Fed’s efforts, the economy shows signs of new life.
Along the way, Mr. Summers has forcefully debated the Treasury secretary, his onetime protégé Timothy F. Geithner, over what to do with troubled banks. He has clashed with Peter R. Orszag, the budget director, over fiscal and health policy issues. He has collided with Austan Goolsbee, an economist on the Council of Economic Advisers, over whether to rescue Chrysler. And he and Mrs. Romer have squabbled over how best to make the economic case for overhauling health care.
His argumentative style has contributed to delaying some actions, officials say, like the Treasury-led overhaul of the bank bailout program that was inherited from the Bush administration and an overhaul of the financial regulatory system, which is now expected later this month.
The disagreements are only natural, White House officials say. The issues are big, and so are the personalities, as Mr. Obama intended. He has said he wanted advisers who would be teammates as well as rivals, long on experience and brainpower and able to air all sides of an issue to help him decide.
“You can’t assemble a group of really brilliant people, and deal with some of the most complex problems in our lifetimes and not have disagreements,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior political strategist who, with the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, plays a big role in mediating among the economic advisers and helps shape the decisions.
The president “invites debate but he doesn’t tolerate factionalism. And ultimately everybody on the economic team knows that at the end of the day we’re going to hold hands and jump together,” Mr. Axelrod added.
People familiar with the deliberations say that Mr. Summers has been more populist than they expected for a right-of-center economist, siding often with Mr. Obama’s political advisers. That has given rise to speculation among colleagues, associates and banking representatives that Mr. Summers is trying to win the Fed seat.
Mr. Summers, in an interview, dismissed such talk as coming from “people who disagree with me.” He added, “The advice I give is based on determining the right course of economic action, recognizing all the political factors.”
Some advisers complained that, under Mr. Summers, meetings became “endless debating sessions,” a phrase used separately by two aides who asked not to be named given the delicacy of internal matters. As Mr. Summers sees it, his penchant for debate — he was a standout member of the debate team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — fits the job.
“My approach in these things is to always be raising objections and concerns,” he said, “because if you haven’t anticipated the objections and concerns, you haven’t minimized risks.”
Even colleagues who have tussled with Mr. Summers say the president was right to bring him in to the White House inner circle amid the global crisis.
“Larry Summers is one of the world’s most brilliant economists,” said Mr. Orszag, who along with Mr. Geithner, successfully resisted Mr. Summers’s attempts early on to control their access to Mr. Obama. “He enriches any discussion he participates in, which is particularly valuable given the complexity and importance of the challenges currently facing us.”
Mr. Summers, the only top economic adviser with a West Wing office, sees the president more than the others and controls the daily economic briefings. By all accounts he has worked hard to disprove early talk that he would not be good at the job, even poking fun at himself.
Just after his 54th birthday on Nov. 30, when the new team was working in Mr. Obama’s transition headquarters in Chicago, Mr. Geithner brought a cupcake and the group sang “Happy Birthday.” As they ended, Mr. Summers rang out, “for he’s an unpleasant fellow,” instead of “for he’s a jolly good fellow.”