Nobody seriously disputes whether Elizabeth Warren is the best-qualified candidate to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Everybody recognizes the bipartisan political appeal that Warren has with voters, and Democratic strategists know that no action in their power would play better to the party’s base than a Warren nomination—a vital maneuver ahead of the November elections. President Barack Obama has no less than three procedural options to get Warren on the job. So: What’s the hold-up?
The bank lobby has been doing everything it can to block Warren’s nomination, but there are simply no good reasons to bypass her. In the field of finance, there is simply no consumer advocate more accomplished than Warren. She’s quite possibly the finest bankruptcy scholar in the country, she came up with the idea for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the first place, and as Chair of the Oversight Panel for the Wall Street bailout, she has proven that she is willing to ask tough questions and hold powerful people accountable for their actions (she has also been profoundly non-partisan, critiquing Democrats and Republicans alike). Warren has even authored a terrific book on managing household budgets, one which is not only full of excellent advice, but which proves she understands the economic pressures facing everyday Americans.
Wall Street bankers say this kind of record is grounds to question her “impartiality,” but after decades of regulatory appointments that came straight from the banking industry, this cry rings hollow. John Dugan, the top bank regulator appointed by President George W. Bush was a bank lobbyist before Bush got him the job—I don’t remember bankers worrying about his impartiality.
Moreover, the CFPB is supposed to advocate for consumers by design. That’s the whole point of the agency. It’s supposed to do so in a nuanced and sophisticated manner, but Warren’s entire career shows evidence of exactly these characteristics. You don’t have to read through academic law papers for proof, just read her blogs on consumer credit.
So what is Obama waiting for? Outside the offices of Wall Street CEOs, Warren enjoys extremely broad appeal among the general public. She’s a former Republican from Oklahoma who fights for working people, not for Democrats or leftists or any other political group or special interest agenda. She wants to see the middle class protected from financial predation. That’s not a radical ideology—it’s common-sense economics and basic business ethics. Senators would find it very difficult to explain a vote against Warren to their constituents.
But if Obama really doesn’t believe Warren can muster the votes in the Senate, he has two other options. He can appoint her during a Congressional recess, or, thanks to a provision of the bill that established the CFPB, he can name her “interim” head of the agency, neither of which require confirmation. There’s no reason to be ashamed of such a move, as Warren would easily garner the 50 votes mandated by the Constitution. The only question is whether she could clear 60 votes to get around contemporary Senate rules, and we’re only really asking that question because one bank-lobby-friendly Senator asked it, without offering any evidence of confirmation hurdles, while acknowledging that he himself would vote for her.
Obama could even combine these options, naming Warren interim head of the CFPB right now, while simultaneously submitting her nomination for the permanent post to the Senate. This move would allow Warren to begin her work at the agency immediately, as Congress goes through the confirmation process.
Any of these strategies could be perfectly acceptable, depending on the details. Nobody wants to see a fake-out, where Obama puts Warren in the post for a few months, only to replace her with a bank-lobby pick after the election. But there’s plenty of evidence that the president sincerely wants to get Warren the job—he fought hard to create the CFPB, and he has praised both Warren and her work repeatedly. He has several options for getting Warren on the job right now and keeping her there for years. So what’s the hold-up?