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May 6, 2011

After Senate Republican Retreat on Elizabeth Warren, President Should Nominate Her Immediately and, if Necessary, Appoint Her During Next Senate Recess

Statement of David Arkush, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

On Thursday, 44 Senate Republicans sent a letter to President Barack Obama stating that they will oppose any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unless the agency is first weakened dramatically. If there was any doubt that these senators are siding with Wall Street over ordinary Americans or that the senators simply oppose protecting American consumers and small businesses from abuses in the marketplace, that doubt now has been removed.

This letter is a failed attempt at misdirection. There is a strong, growing belief in Washington that the president will nominate Elizabeth Warren, currently a special adviser to the Treasury Department, to head the CFPB. Senate Republicans would be foolish to fight her publicly, and they know it. They would lose the fight – and would only strengthen Warren, the CFPB and the president.

So the senators are pretending the fight is about something else. They say they would oppose any nominee, not just Warren, because the agency is structurally flawed. They are forcing the president to make a recess appointment, which they will use to claim that he and the agency are unaccountable and undemocratic. Their arguments about the agency are specious, as recent congressional debate has shown. It is clear that they simply oppose a strong consumer protection agency.

The senators’ position is an embarrassment. After the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, at a time when millions of Americans have been thrown out of their homes and millions more are jobless, these 44 senators are steadfastly attempting to block a critical solution to the problems: a single agency that will look after consumers in the financial markets, amidst a sea of regulators that work for banks. Two of the senators, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both Republicans from Maine, voted to approve the CFPB in its current form less than a year ago. Their decision to sign the letter is mystifying – and is likely to draw ire from voters.

The Senate Republicans’ strategic gambit likely leaves Obama no choice but to appoint a CFPB director during a Senate recess. It also leaves him no reason to appoint anyone but the strongest candidate: Elizabeth Warren. That is a good thing.

But the president shouldn’t wait until the next Senate recess. He should jump-start the debate that Wall Street and its congressional allies fear by nominating Warren immediately and touting her and the CFPB loudly. The Senate should hold hearings on her nomination right away. If Republicans continue to block her nomination, then the president should appoint her during the next Senate recess, the week of Memorial Day.

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