As Republicans Declare War on Bank Customers, a Call for Obama to Appoint Elizabeth Warren


A group of Democratic representatives has joined consumer groups -- along with prominent figures like Dr. Phil (yes, that Dr. Phil) -- in calling on the president to make a "recess appointment" of Elizabeth Warren. That will allow her to get to work running the new bureau charged with protecting bank customers from deceptive, dishonest, and unfair bank practices.

That should be a no-brainer: A Warren appointment would be a policy win and a political win. Republicans have purchased first-class tickets on the Crazy Train by vowing to block any appointment to that position, even a person that shares their radical anti-regulation ideology. The president can be a voice for sanity by acting decisively to fill this urgently-needed position.

A well-run CFPB wouldn't just make people's lives easier. It could also reduce the likelihood of another financial crisis. As for Ms. Warren herself, she hasn't even been nominated and the war over her appointment has already turned white-hot. Whether or not the president wants this battle, it's on. He can either attack or retreat. There's no third choice. The only way for him to win this war is by striking preemptively.

A petition is now available that allows people to send a message to the president urging him to make a recess appointment of Elizabeth Warren. Tell 'em Dr. Phil sent you.

Declaring Warren

With their latest attacks on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Republicans have declared open warfare against the interests of everybody who does business with a bank -- which is pretty much everybody. While the Democrats' record on bank regulation has been less than perfect, the GOP has now gone completely overboard. They no longer even pretend to offer a coherent critique of agencies like the CFPB.

That leaves their real goal revealed in all its naked glory: To troll for Wall Street cash by protecting it against anyone who wants to help the people who are still described as bank "customers," but who might more accurately be deemed "serfs."

Recently 44 Republican Senators -- that's almost all of them -- said they would refuse to confirm anybodyas head of the new bureau. They made their position clear: Republican, ultraconservative, bank president -- President Obama could reanimate the corpse of Ayn Rand and they wouldn't confirm her. Their statement made clear that they would refuse to appoint anyone for the position unless the agency was watered down to the point of complete paralysis.

The Art of Warren

That's why more and more people have concluded its time for the president to stand up to them -- by appointing the best person for the job during the upcoming Congressional recess. Today a group of Democratic members of the House, led by Reps. Keith Ellison, Carolyn Maloney, and Brad Miller, began circulating a letter among their colleagues asking the president to appoint Warren to the position during the upcoming Senate recess.

Warren is extremely popular among the Democratic base, a group that has been demoralized by recent events. She's also a terrific, folksy communicator for the rights of bank customers. A recess appointment by the president would be extremely well received by the people he most needs to mobilize and energize in 2012.

It would also be an opportunity for him to do something he seems to like doing: Posing as the only adult in the room. A Warren appointment would be an ideal opportunity for the president to declare an end to the current silly season in American politics, where political minorities feel they can overturn established law simply by refusing to fulfill their duty when it comes to government vacancies.

What the GOP is doing is blackmail, pure and simple, an attempt to re-fight battles they've already lost. What's next -- abolishing the Supreme Court by refusing to approve judges?

Their behavior becomes even more inexcusable in this case, because the CFPB was weakened considerably as a concession to Sen. Richard Shelby, who then refused to back the bill anyway. Shelby's role in this matter continues to violate one of the Senate's most justly respected traditions: It's dishonorable.

A Just Warren

Elizabeth Warren was an early and forceful fighter for the rights of bank customers. She's the original architect of the concept that became the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Her goals are rooted in one of our most fundamental American values: fair play. Banks have been bilking customers in dozens of legal but unfair ways for a long time, using their clout to give people the runaround. Ms. Warren has another American value on her side, too: Common sense and safety. Reckless and dishonest bank behavior caused the last financial crisis, and the kind of oversight Ms. Warren will provide can help put a stop to that.

Republicans have tried to portray Warren as some sort of radical. She's not. She's an Oklahoma-born self-made woman, an old-fashioned American success story, an attorney and longtime Harvard professor who's an expert on contract and commercial law. She saw many of our current problems coming long before others did. What's more, she's been on a little charm offensive that's beginning to win over bankers, especially leaders at the community banks that provide more useful services than their megabank Wall Street competitors.

Even JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has softened his rhetoric and is now saying things like this: "... We fully acknowledge that there were many good reasons that led to the creation of the CFPB and believe that if the CFPB does its job well, the agency will benefit American consumers and the system."

Words like that from Jamie Dimon amount to what reporters used to to call a "Dog Bites Man' story.

Random Ransom Notes

Warren's growing popularity leaves the diehard Republican opposition to the CFPB well outside the political mainstream -- and just a little bit to the right of Absolutely Nuts. There are legitimate conservative arguments, and there are extremist conservative arguments. And then there's absolute gibberish, like this comment from -- who else? -- Sen. Richard Shelby:

"This is about accountability. The bureau, as currently structured, lacks any semblance of the checks and balances inherent in the Constitution."

Because, of course, a presidential appointment that's subject to Congressional approval, for a job leading an agency that's subject to all appropriate oversight... Oh, forget it. All that's important to remember about this statement is that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If it were broadcast on television, the captions would read as follows: "My party and I are bottom-feeding for Wall Street campaign cash. I have so little regard for my audience's intelligence that I believe I can say pretty much anything and they'll buy it."

The Republicans' recklessness on government appointments is also reflected in their games-playing over appointments to the Federal Reserve board and other critical position. Now they're using the same pattern of irresponsibility in an attempt to weaken and destroy a popular and urgently-needed agency.

The statement by Shelby and his fellow Senators is a ransom note, pure and simple. Traditionally, kidnappers disguised their identities by creating ransom notes out of cut-up newspapers. Shelby's statement reads like it was made from cut-up newspapers, too -- but without bothering to turn the pieces into coherent sentences.

A Time For Warren

Warren's appointment is supported by consumer groups, civil rights groups -- even Dr. Phil! (Dr. Phil has apparently worked with Warren, a fellow Oklahoman, on several projects.) Jon Stewart interrupted his interview with Warren to ask if they could "make out."

We don't recommend going that far, especially since Dr. Phil's services may have been needed in the Stewart household later that evening. Such matters are best addressed by professionals, while we stick to the matter at hand:

Representatives, consumer groups, Comedy Central hosts, and Dr. Phil all agree: A Warren appointment would be a smart move. It would make sense politically, but what matters a lot more is that it would also be an excellent move for the country. The only downside to a recess appointment of Elizabeth Warren is... honestly, we can't think of one.

(Supporters can sign an online petition urging the President to make a recess appointment of Elizabeth Warren as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.)

This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. 

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