Elizabeth Warren for Senate? Why Obama's Capitulation May End Up Working Out
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The Sunday afternoon news that the White House would not be nominating Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) certainly has the potential to trigger outrage from progressives who believe President Barack Obama too often declines to confront Republican extremism. Warren, the populist Harvard professor who birthed the idea for a government agency that would protect consumers from tricks and traps perpetrated by banks, mortgage firms, and credit card companies, was the right person for the job. So much so that congressional Republicans have been howling about the prospect of her leading the agency even before the bureau was created last year by the Wall Street reform legislation. Which is why Obama's decision not to fight for her—and it would have been a titanic fight—may disappoint. But there's an up side to the move: the possibility that Warren will end up in the US Senate. And there's this: The fellow Obama picked for the position, Richard Cordray, can be expected to do a fine job pursuing abusive financial firms.
Cordray was recruited for his current position of chief of enforcement by Warren, who last year was asked by the administration to set up the agency. Naturally, Warren is a fan of Cordray, a former attorney general of Ohio. In a statement released on Sunday, Warren said, "Rich has a proven track record of fighting for families during his time as head of the CFPB enforcement division, as Attorney General of Ohio, and throughout his career. He was one of the first senior executives I recruited for the agency, and his hard work and deep commitment make it clear that he can make many important contributions in leading this agency. He will make a stellar director." The AFL-CIO noted that it was "disappointed" that Obama did not select Warren, but it declared its strong support for Cordray, based on his "outstanding record of protecting the public interest." ProgressOhio, a progressive outfit, said, "Ohioans who have long known Rich Cordray understand the integrity, intelligence and fairness he will bring to the office." A longtime consumer advocate told me that Cordray is a "great" pick.
The bureau will be in fine hands—if Cordray can win confirmation (see below). But did Obama concede too much by eschewing Warren for the post? It was clear she wanted the position. But Warren knew that she was a lightning rod for the GOP, and that Republican senators would fight her nomination as if the fate of the world depended upon de-Warrenizing the CFPB. In May, 44 senators signed a letter asserting they would block any CFPB director unless the administration would agree to changes that would weaken the independent office. They may well stick to that vow when it comes to Cordray, but he will certainly have an easier go of it than Warren would have. And the bureau, per the law that created it, will not assume key authorities until it has a director. Consequently, avoiding a battle royal over a director, if possible, will yield a real benefit.
Fans of Warren had raised the possibility of a recess appointment for her. In response, congressional Republicans have prevented Congress from officially going into recess—even during scheduled breaks—to block the president from deploying this option. Some bloggers and others have suggested that there is a way the White House still could use a recess appointment for Warren, yet White House lawyers and Warren herself had concluded that while such an action was theoretically possible, it would require an unprecedented maneuver. Within the White House, there wasn't much appetite for fighting over whether a recess appointment might be legal if congressional Republicans didn't convene a recess. Yet if the Republicans do carry out their threat to block any nomination, the White House might eventually have to resort to this course.