Progressives Block Appointment of Wall St. Insider to Top Treasury Job

Progressive activists are feeling their political power is growing after a controversial White House appointee withdrew his name to be the undersecretary of the Treasury for domestic affairs, the department’s third-ranking position.


Antonio Weiss, who was a senior investment banker at Lazard, has instead accepted a top post that does not require Senate approval, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Monday night, when he announced with frustration that Weiss would be his “counselor,” which appears to be in his inner circle, and would start his position immediately.

“The opposition to his nomination was not justified,” Lew said.

However, progressives, led by Massauchusetts Democrat, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, said that the last thing that financial market regulators needed was another Wall St. insider who was likely to be more deferential to fellow investors than to the American public. Moreover, Warren said that Weiss’ expertise was not on domestic financial issues—where the Treasury needed to be more forceful in regulating financial markets.

“Weiss has spent most of his career working on international transactions – from 2001 to 2009 he lived and worked in Paris – and now he’s being asked to run domestic finance at Treasury. Neither his background nor his professional experience makes him qualified to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury,” she wrote in a November commentary. “As someone who has spent my career focused on domestic economic issues, including a stint of my own at the Treasury Department, I know how important these issues are and how much the people in Treasury can shape policies. I also know that there are a lot of people who have spent their careers focused on these issues, and Weiss isn’t one of them.” 

Weiss sent a letter to the White House this past weekend withdrawing his nomination. On Monday, Warren said that the Treasury Department needs to strengthen enforcement of consumer protections on Wall Street, which were watered down in the 2015 budget bill passed just before the New Year and are expected to be targeted again by Congress.

“We’ve already seen that the new Republican Congress is going to aggressively attack the Dodd-Frank Act,” she said Monday. “The risk of another financial crisis remains too high, and we should be strengthening financial reforms, not rolling them back.”

“There are many of us in the Senate who believe that we need high-ranking administration officials who do not come from Wall St.,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-VT, who also opposed Weiss’ nomination.

Two progressives groups, Credo Action and Democracy for America (DFA), ran campaigns to support Warren in her opposition to Weiss’ appointment. Other Democratic senators who sided with Warren include: West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, New Hanpshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, Illinois’ Dick Durbin, Minnesota’s Al Franken, and Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin. All announced they would not vote to confirm him in the job.

DFA quickly sent out an e-mail blast saying this was a “momentous victory” and all the more reason that Warren should run for president in 2016.

“This is a momentous victory for the Warren Wing of the Democratic Party. Wall Street threw everything they had at us. But through Warren's leadership and the amazing activism of progressives across the country – including the 58,743 DFA members who signed our anti-Weiss petition – we’ve proven that together we can take on special interests and WIN,” DFA’s e-mail said.
“Tonight’s victory shows why so many in the Democratic Party are hungry for Elizabeth Warren to run for president. Not only can Senator Warren marshall the grassroots energy to achieve what too many in Washington say is impossible, but if she were president Wall Street bankers wouldn’t be at the helm of our economic policy in the first place.”

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