John Bryson, who spent only eight months as commerce secretary, said in a letter to President Obama that new leadership was needed since the seizure he suffered "could be a distraction" during a crucial time for the U.S. economy.
WASHINGTON — With John Bryson’s resignation as Commerce secretary, President Obama lost the member of his Cabinet with the most extensive business background, and it’s doubtful a replacement could be confirmed until after the fall election.
Bryson, 68, stepped down after eight months on the job, citing a recent seizure that led to two San Gabriel Valley, Calif., hit-and-run accidents.
“I have concluded that the seizure I suffered on June 9 could be a distraction from my performance as secretary and that our country would be better served by a change in leadership of the department,” Bryson wrote to Obama in a letter dated Wednesday.
Obama accepted the resignation, which was announced Thursday.
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“As secretary, John fought tirelessly for our nation’s businesses and workers, helping to bolster our exports and promote American manufacturing and products at home and abroad,” Obama said a few hours before meeting Bryson in the Oval Office to thank him for his service.
Bryson, a former chief executive at Edison International — parent company of Southern California Edison — was found unconscious June 9 behind the wheel of his Lexus. He had struck two cars, one of them twice, authorities said. He was hospitalized overnight, and tests showed no alcohol or drugs were involved.
Two days later, the Commerce Department said he had suffered a seizure and he was taking a medical leave. A department official said Thursday that initial tests by a neurologist show Bryson suffered a complex partial seizure. During such a seizure, a person has no control over movements, speech or actions and cannot remember them later, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
Blood-test results are pending and the accidents remain under investigation, authorities said.
Bryson was not available for an interview, a Commerce Department spokeswoman said. In an email to department employees, Bryson thanked them for “many thoughtful and kind notes” since the seizure and promised to “continue to do everything I can to support the president and America’s businesses.”
Obama nominated Bryson a year ago to replace former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who became ambassador to China.
Obama touted Bryson’s business experience, which included serving as chief executive of Southern California Edison from 1984 to 1990 and then as CEO of the utility’s parent from 1990 to 2008.
Norman Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said it helped Obama to have a Cabinet official with such a lengthy business background. Obama has been criticized as anti-business by Republicans and many industry groups.
“They’ve got a problem on that front,” Ornstein said.
Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, an economist who has spent most of her career in academia and government, became acting head of the department when Bryson took his leave.
Obama indicated Thursday that she would continue in the position for the foreseeable future and that he was confident she would “serve the American people well.”
With little legislative time left in an election year, it’s unlikely Obama could get a new commerce secretary confirmed by the Senate before November’s election, Ornstein said.