Rep. Ellen Tauscher, of Alamo, is the Obama administration's pick for a key State Department post for arms control issues.
Tauscher is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable members of Congress on the nation's nuclear arsenal and a moderate who walks a fine line to balance support for nuclear weapons research at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, which is in her district, and the demands of peace activists.
"There is some skepticism among the nuclear control and disarmament community," said Christopher Paine, nuclear program director for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.
Paine nonetheless called the pick a good one.
"Certainly, she has the potential to do a terrific job," Paine said.
Tauscher has not been vetted for the job, a process that can take weeks or months. The position also requires Senate confirmation. If Tauscher is appointed, a special election would be held to replace her for the rest of her two-year term ending January 2011.
The choice of Tauscher was first reported by The Associated Press. Congressional sources confirmed the AP's story for MediaNews.
If confirmed as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Tauscher would serve as a senior adviser on arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament issues to the president and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom Tauscher supported in last year's Democratic presidential primaries.
Experts said that among the tasks Tauscher would take on would be working with Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles in the two countries, dealing with countries who might be seeking nuclear power and trying to limit small arms markets around the world.
The highest profile arms control challenges — Iran and North Korea, for example — would more likely be dealt with within the White House between President Barack Obama and the National Security Council, said Steven Weber, director of UC Berkeley's Institute of International Studies.
"There's some other issues we don't want to forget about," Weber said.
Developing a coherent approach to nations that are seeking nuclear power — and that therefore could eventually develop nuclear weapons — could be a key task facing the next undersecretary, Weber said.
"It's wrong to say you can wall off military uses for nuclear power," he said. "It's going to be managing the process inside the government and coming up with a coherent position for the government."
Tauscher, 57, was first elected to Congress in 1996 after an upset of two-term Republican incumbent Bill Baker. Tauscher, a wealthy former investment banker, spent $1.7 million of her own money on the election.
The chairman of a coalition of centrist congressional Democrats, Tauscher has remained moderate on political issues, occasionally angering more liberal members of her party.
Tauscher chairs the strategic forces subcommittee, which oversees the nation's nuclear weapons.
"She knows the U.S. nuclear arsenal better than probably any other member of Congress at this point," said Stephen Young, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "She doesn't have as much background on arms control as other candidates, but I expect her to be a quick study."
Some activists remain unsatisfied with Tauscher's stances on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to bankruptcy reform and have called in recent years for someone to challenge her in a Democratic primary election.
She was challenged in last year's general election by Republican Nicholas Gerber of Moraga, who got 31.1 percent of the vote.
The 10th District includes much of eastern and central Contra Costa County as well as Livermore in Alameda County; Dixon, Fairfield, Suisun City and Elmira in Solano County; and Isleton and Walnut Grove in Sacramento County. The most recent voter-registration reports show the district is about 47 percent Democrat, 29 percent Republican and 20 percent decline-to-state.
Staff writer Josh Richman contributed to this story.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher

  • Residence: Alamo
  • Education: B.A., Seton Hall University, 1973
  • Background: Wall Street investment banker, 1974-1988; founder and CEO of Child Care Registry, 1992-1996
  • First Elected: 1996, beating two-term incumbent Bill Baker
  • Leadership positions: Chairwoman, Strategic Forces Subcommittee of House Armed Services Committee; chairwoman, New Democrat Coalition, a group of centrist congressional Democrats.