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Senate Republicans give up on opposing Elizabeth Warren for CFPB, with a twist

Yesterday, 44 Senate Republicans signed a letter to President Obama stating that they will oppose any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unless the Bureau is first weakened dramatically. This is an interesting development.

Here’s what’s really going on, that the papers won’t be reporting: This letter signals that the Senate Republicans have surrendered their fight against Elizabeth Warren. In recent weeks there has been a strong, growing belief in Washington that the president will nominate Warren to head the CFPB. Public Citizen has been urging Obama to nominate her since last summer, and saying it’s a fight worth having. Warren is an outstanding champion for consumers. If the American public gets more exposure to her, they will love her. Wall Street and its congressional allies would be bruised and muddied by a nomination fight; she and the CFPB would be strengthened.

Apparently the Senate Republicans understand this. So they are doing the best they can to retreat strategically. It’s not a bad strategy: First, they are pretending their fight is about something else. They say they would oppose any nominee, not just Professor Warren, because the agency is structurally flawed. Second, 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’s clear that they simply oppose a strong consumer protection agency.

The Senate Republicans’ strategic surrender — giving up on fighting Warren and saying instead that they would oppose anyone — leaves President 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’s an excellent development.

But the president shouldn’t fall into the trap that’s been set – letting Wall Street and its congressional allies avoid a public conversation about Elizabeth Warren and the agency. They are on the run. The president should not miss the opportunity to introduce more Americans to Professor Warren, and to have the debate that Wall Street and its congressional allies fear. He should nominate Professor Warren immediately and tout her and the CFPB loudly. The Senate should hold hearings on her nomination right away. They should make sure the American public sees Warren and hears her message — and sees and hears the opponents of strong consumer protection.

Then, if Republicans continue to block her nomination, the president should appoint Warren during the next Senate recess, the week of Memorial Day.