Before a packed crowd in the White House’s state dining room, President Obama on Friday nominated San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to become the newest — and youngest — member of his cabinet, as the secretary of housing and urban development.
“I am nominating another all-star who’s done a fantastic job in San Antonio over the last five years,” the president said between jokes about the “good-looking” mayor who had proved to be a “pretty good speaker.”
Pending Senate confirmation, Castro will replace Shaun Donovan, whom the president has tapped as the new director for the Office of Management and Budget.
Castro spoke of having “big shoes to fill,” and called the nomination a “blessing.”
“I look forward to being part of a department that will ensure that millions of Americans all across the country will have the opportunity to get good, safe, affordable housing and pursue their American dreams,” he said, adding his thanks — “muchísimas gracias” — to the people of San Antonio.
As mayor, Castro, 39, spearheaded the SA2020 initiative for education and downtown development. Previously he served two terms on the San Antonio City Council, and his mother, a well-known activist, once worked at the San Antonio Housing Authority.
In introducing Castro, Obama referenced his keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, where the San Antonio mayor rose to national prominence after sharing the story of his grandmother, a Mexican immigrant who worked as a maid in San Antonio.
“For her and generations of Americans like her, a home is more than just a house,” the president said in his introduction on Friday.
Opinions differ about whether the move would be politically advantageous for Castro, whose name has been floated as a potential 2016 running mate for Hillary Clinton. A spot in the president’s cabinet could give the three-term mayor more credibility as a national candidate. On the other hand, he would be joining the Obama administration, not known for its popularity in Texas, in the lame-duck second half of its second term.
Castro has turned down a cabinet position before. In 2012, Obama reportedly tried to bring Castro on as secretary of transportation. At the time, Castro indicated he would prefer to remain in San Antonio.
Democrats have pinned their hopes on Castro and his identical twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, with many encouraging Julián to run for governor in 2018. Hispanic Texans are the state’s fastest-growing demographic.
Obama called on the Senate to confirm Castro and Donovan’s appointments quickly, sprinkling a little bit of Spanish into his introduction of the HUD nominee.
“Julián vivió el sueño americano,” the president said. “Julián lived the American dream.”
Castro would take over as HUD secretary at a time when the nation's housing market has been treading water.
There was some positive news this week about new and existing home sales inching up in April, but the overall spring selling season has been a disappointment. Housing does not look to be the engine of economic growth many forecasters had been hoping for.
That's a challenge to the secretary because HUD plays an important role in the housing market. Through the Federal Housing Administration, HUD guarantees more than 1 in 10 home loans. Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, says FHA-backed loans can be a door opener, since they require a down payment of just 3.5 percent.
KERA's Rick Holter interviewed Castro last fall. During their conversation, Holter asked Castro about the 2016 presidential race. If Hillary Clinton comes calling, Castro's got a suggested running mate: his identical twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.
If Clinton runs and says “I want Julián Castro to be my running mate,” would he consider it?
“I don’t believe that that’s ever going to happen," the mayor said. "I’m going to be doing my job in San Antonio.”
“If she called on my brother, I’d be wholeheartedly supportive of that."
Holter asked: “I wonder how he would answer that question?”
“I hope he says yes,” Castro responded.