LaHood says he'll leave at end of Obama's term

October 13, 2011 - 5:15 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will leave the Obama administration at the end of the president's current term, his top spokeswoman said Thursday.

LaHood, 65, indicated his intention to leave the cabinet at a media luncheon, but gave no reason for his decision, spokeswoman Jill Zuckman said. He hasn't yet discussed his intentions with President Barack Obama, she said.

Later in the day, LaHood released a statement:

"I serve at the pleasure of the president and it is an honor to look out for the safety of the American public when it comes to planes, trains, automobiles and more. Throughout this term, we have also focused our efforts on creating jobs as we rebuild our roads, rails and runways, and I look forward to working with Congress to pass the American Jobs Act so we can put Americans back to work."

LaHood was a Republican congressman from Illinois for 14 years until retiring in 2008, and a top aide to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, R-Ill., before that.

He had a reputation in Congress as a moderate who tried to foster greater cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. While those skills made LaHood an attractive Cabinet choice, he has become better known as a plain-speaking advocate for safer driving and job-creating transportation projects.

Even when he has made a misstep — such as last year when he urged the car owners during a House committee hearing to quit driving Toyotas when he meant to tell them to take their recalled vehicles to a dealer — he has been quick to correct himself.

He endeared himself to bicyclists by standing on a table at a gathering of activists lobbying for more transportation dollars for bike paths and bike lanes and praising the importance of their cause. He later formally adopted a policy that the Transportation Department should give projects involving biking and walking the same consideration in determining grant eligibility as projects involving motorized transportation.

While one of the most prominent Republicans in Obama's administration, LaHood's political contacts and negotiating skills haven't made any meaningful dent in GOP opposition in the House to the president's current jobs proposal or his previous economic stimulus program.