WASHINGTON -- President Bush talked Cabinet member Tommy Thompson out of accepting an offer to be the top Washington lobbyist for automakers, industry executives have been told.
Thompson, governor of Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001, had sent strong signals he would become CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, effective in September.
But President Bush wanted him to stay on as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services through the 2004 election campaign, say executives of two companies that are members of the alliance, the industry's top trade association. Both talked on condition that they not be identified.
One says Thompson's reversal puts the alliance search for a high-profile leader back to square one. The other suggests that the alliance has fallback plans but adds, "nobody knows" when a choice will be named. One said that Thompson might reconsider.
Joe Kennebeck of Volkswagen of America Inc., chairman of the alliance executive committee, declined comment.
Executives of the 10 companies in the alliance have been extremely tight-lipped about their efforts to find a new CEO for the 4-year-old organization.
The public affairs magazine National Journal reported that the offer to Thompson was for more than $1 million a year. As a Cabinet secretary, his salary is $171,900.
Campbell Gardett, spokesman for Thompson said, "The secretary has no plans to leave. He has said he is staying throughout this term."