President Obama’s top aides continue to lavish kind words on Elizabeth Warren – but as yet have no job offer for the Harvard professor who is favored by many liberals to serve as the head of a controversial new consumer protection agency.
“I think Elizabeth Warren is a terrific candidate,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday. Asked if “Wall Street opposition” to Warren’s potential nomination to lead the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection would factor into the president’s decision, Gibbs replied firmly: “I don't think any criticism in any way by anybody would disqualify her.”
The Business Roundtable – an association of CEOs from leading U.S. corporations, many of which are publicly traded on Wall Street – has long opposed the landmark legislation overhauling the financial services industry that President Obama signed into law last week, and which created the new consumer protection bureau. The agency is to be housed in the Federal Reserve.
"This legislation, while drafted with the best intentions, paints the U.S. business community with a broad brush and will have many unintended consequences for the more than 12,000 non-financial publicly traded companies,” said Larry Burton, the Roundtable’s executive director, in a statement July 21.
Many Republicans have also expressed opposition to Warren’s candidacy – to the point where Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the Banking Committee chairman who stewarded the reform legislation to passage, fretted publicly to NPR last week that Warren’s ability to win Senate confirmation for the new post is “a serious question.”
But the president’s spokesman pointedly rejected such talk at Monday’s briefing, telling reporters: “I think she's very confirmable for this job.” At the same time, Gibbs noted that the administration is making its selection from among “many good candidates.”
Liberal groups like MoveOn.org, labor unions, and other stalwarts of the progressive movement have made clear in recent weeks that they see Warren – the intellectual architect behind the idea of a federal consumer protection agency – as not only a desirable candidate but the only person for the job.
A Harvard Law School professor with a specialty in bankruptcy and contracts law, Warren has served since November 2008 as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.
In that role, she clashed politely, at times, with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who has testified before the five-member panel. Appearing herself as a witness before the Senate Finance Committee last week, Warren acknowledged that she had been “tough on Treasury,” but argued she had helped bring “a great deal more openness” from the department in its handling of the controversial TARP initiative.
In that testimony, Warren already sounded very much like a loyal member of the president’s team, telling lawmakers that TARP “has had a profound effect as part of a coordinated government response to bring our economy back from the brink of collapse.”
Geithner dismissed talk that his appearances before Warren’s panel have left him lukewarm to the idea of her spearheading the new agency. “She is a enormously effective advocate for reform, probably the most effective advocate for reform for consumers – for consumer protection – in the country,” the treasury secretary said on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday. “She has huge credibility, and she played a decisive role in helping make the public case for reform…She was early on this, way ahead of everybody else.”
Still, the Obama administration is not rushing to nominate Warren. Gibbs cautioned reporters not to expect an “imminent” announcement on the watchdog position, and the chief executive himself, in recent remarks, steered clear of promising Warren the job.
“I have the highest regard for Elizabeth,” President Obama told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” last week, before adding: “We have not made a decision about who we're going to appoint yet.”
Possibly preparing his liberal base for the selection of someone other than Warren, Mr. Obama offered a “guarantee” that Warren would be closely involved in consumer protection issues going forward. “Elizabeth is going to be working with me, working with Tim Geithner…to help in thinking about how do we make this consumer agency as effective as possible,” the president said.