Warren: A Huge Win
by Robert Kuttner
September 16, 2010
The early Administration leaks about Elizabeth Warren
serving as an "interim" appointee to set up the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were equivocal. In
one version of the story, she would be a counselor to
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. In others, this
appointment would be an alternative to her even being
considered for the job on a permanent basis -- a wink
and a nod to the financial industry.
But that scenario turned out to be wrong, and
underestimated Warren's own tenacity. It is now clear
that the indefatigable Warren will be both a senior
presidential adviser with direct access to Obama when
she needs it, as well as a Treasury employee. In an
administration dominated by Rubinistas, Warren will
literally be the first financial progressive with both
a personal connection to the president as well as an
independent power base.
This strategy is a win-win, on several grounds. It
gives Warren full authority to set up the agency,
without having to run the gantlet of confirmation
hearings and a likely Republican filibuster.
This way, Warren will be able to get the agency quickly
up and running in a manner that serves both consumers
and progressive politics. Early directives to bring
greater simplicity and transparency to credit documents
will be extremely popular. Politically, the carping by
the banking industry and its Republican allies will
remind the public which side the GOP is on.
This will take a lot of the wind out of the Republican
claim that they opposed the bailout and share popular
backlash against Wall Street. It will belatedly put the
administration vividly on the side of regular Americans
when it comes to banking issues.
And as Warren continues to be the remarkably popular
champion of struggling families, it will become more
difficult to deny her the job on a permanent basis if
she wants it. And it will be more costly, even for a
more Republican senate in the next Congress, to make
her their nemesis.
Those like Sen. Chris Dodd who claimed Warren had
little experience running things underestimated the
lady. They certainly underestimated her as an astute
political player. This appointment was delayed for
several weeks because extensive discussions were
necessary to produce terms that worked for both the
White House and for Warren personally.
Credit for this victory is should be shared several
ways. The progressive movement did not relent on this
one. Denying Warren the job would have been a
demoralizing slap at a Democratic activist base that
was already in a state of near-despair.
It is hard to recall another case when a public
pressure campaign for a particular nomination, with the
tacit support of the would-be nominee, did not
backfire. This success signals progressives to keep
prodding Obama to be the leader we hoped we were
Shahien Nasiripour in Huffington Post also gets credit
for being the first one to suggest this interim tactic,
back in July.
Credit also goes to President Obama himself. Despite
nay-saying from the wing of his administration that is
too cozy with Wall Street, the president is a good
enough politician and has enough progressive instincts
to recognize the Warren appointment as shrewd politics
and smart on the merits.
But the most credit goes to Warren herself, for never
pulling her punches either as head of the Congressional
Oversight Panel or as a broader spokeswoman for
financial reform. In an age of few progressive heroes,
it took amazing combination of persistence, principle,
political shrewdness and personal grace to make herself
the indispensable woman.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect
and a senior fellow at Demos. His new book is "A
Presidency in Peril."
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