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Welcome aboard: Obama lavishes praise, attention on new Housing chief Julian Castro

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WASHINGTON - There were all the trappings of a campaign endorsement rally: the cheering crowds, the American flags, and the sitting president heaping praise on a fellow Democrat. All that was missing was the campaign.

Three days after new Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro was sworn in, President Barack Obama paid a rare visit Thursday to the agency's colossal concrete headquarters to welcome Castro aboard. In gushing terms, Obama lavished admiration on the fresh-faced former mayor who Democrats are already eyeing as a potential vice-presidential candidate in 2016.

"He's young, he's good-looking, he talks good. You can't let him down," Obama told HUD workers gathered for the presidential visit, who laughed and cheered so loudly that Obama declared them the "rowdiest employees" in the federal government.

It's rare for the president to personally and publicly welcome a new Cabinet secretary to the job. Typically, Obama appears with a candidate at the White House and vouches for their credentials during a personnel announcement, then the new hire is sworn in privately after being confirmed by the Senate. Castro was sworn in on Monday in a brief, closed-door ceremony.

Castro's political currency is fast on the rise, given a major boost by Obama in 2012 when he chose the 39-year-old to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, where Obama was formally nominated for a second term. In his new job, Castro replaces outgoing Secretary Shaun Donovan, the new White House budget director whom Obama credited for helping pull the country out of the housing crisis.

The Hispanic former mayor of San Antonio, Castro seized the opportunity to put in a few good words about his new boss.

"History will demonstrate very clearly that when crisis struck our nation, our president was ready," Castro said.

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