By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
It’s hard to believe it was so long ago. But it was Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, when we White House reporters gathered in the Rose Garden to meet Elizabeth Warren, President Obama’s pick to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by Congress as part of its Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation.
In many ways, what happened that September afternoon was classic Obama, trying to have it both ways. He praised Warren’s tenacity in fighting for consumers, calling her “one of the country’s fiercest advocates for the middle class.” Yet, because of Republican opposition in the Senate, he only nominated her on a temporary basis — to help create the new agency, not to lead it.
That was almost 10 months ago. Since that time, in her temporary post, Warren has more than proved why she’s perfect for the job. It’s time for Obama to drop the other shoe and name Warren the Bureau’s first full-time director. She’s earned it. She deserves it.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wouldn’t even exist, in fact, without Warren’s prodding and determination. A 62-year-old grandmother from Norman, Okla., she was plucked from her job as a Harvard law professor in 2008 to head a congressional panel overseeing the $700 billion TARP program started by President Bush and continued by President Obama.
One of the factors leading to the Wall Street collapse of September 2008, Warren argued, was that nobody was watching out for consumers to warn them about questionable investments, like predatory subprime mortgages, being marketed by financial institutions. A strong consumer protection agency had to be part of any long-term solution, Warren convinced Republicans and Democrats in Congress, or else “no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”
And thus, despite the fierce opposition of big banks, was born the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which now has more than 300 employees, hired by Warren. Even in its infant form, it’s already prodded several government agencies to combine complicated, multi-page, and duplicative mortgage forms into one, easy-to-read document. And it’s scheduled to assume independent responsibility from the Treasury Department for overseeing consumer affairs on July 21.
But here’s the biggest change since that Rose Garden appearance. Warren’s not only been busy on the inside, creating a new agency. She’s been busy on the outside, building support for the bureau — from her former enemies. The New York Times reported recently that Warren has “conferred with about 70 members of Congress, conducted dozens of media interviews and met with more than 1,000 banking, business and consumer representatives.” And has “met at least once with the chief executives of nearly all of the country’s largest banks.” She’s convinced them that a strong consumer protection agency will provide invaluable protection for consumers and bankers alike. After meeting her, writes the Times, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, in his annual shareholders letter, admitted: “We fully acknowledge that there were many good reasons that led to the creation of the C.F.P.B.”
Without compromising her consumer fighter credentials, Warren has won the support of industry leaders. After meeting with her, Roger Beverage, CEO and president of the Oklahoma Bankers Association, who earlier denounced Warren as “akin to the Antichrist,” wrote a letter to President Obama urging her appointment.
Yes, there will be continued opposition from Republicans in Congress, who continue to fight for Wall Street bankers over consumers, even after many bankers have dropped their opposition to Warren’s leadership. In a contentious May hearing of the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) accused Warren of lying. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that her appointment “could be a serious threat to our financial system.” McConnell did not explain how protecting consumers from being gouged by Wall Street banks would threaten our financial system — unless he meant that gouging consumers is key to a bank’s success.
But the certainty of Republican opposition should not deter President Obama from doing the right thing. That’s what recess appointments are for. If George W. Bush could take advantage of that opportunity to name the highly unqualified John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N., Obama should not hesitate to use a recess appointment to name the exceptionally qualified Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
There’s not much time left. On July 21, the new consumer protection agency is ready to go live. All it needs is a permanent director. We’re lucky to have the perfect leader in Elizabeth Warren. What’s Obama waiting for?
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.