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Elizabeth Warren Returns to the White House

In another edition of Kremlinology, Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor seen as a top choice to assume the position of director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, stopped by the White House yesterday.

Elizabeth Warren slipped quietly into Washington on Tuesday to talk with President Obama about the possibility of leading the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, according to people familiar with the meeting.

An administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the visit had not been publicized, acknowledged that Warren met with Obama but noted Wednesday that the president is still considering multiple candidates for the job.

Other contenders indeed have emerged – namely Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael S. Barr – but Warren is easily the most high-profile and most polarizing among them.

Officials say no decision has been made, but Robert Gibbs wouldn’t rule out an announcement “during the week.” It’s already Thursday, so the logical time for an announcement, if it comes, would be at the scheduled Obama press conference set for tomorrow.

The on-again, off-again nature of this is probably fraying some nerves, but it gives me another opportunity to explain that Elizabeth Warren could be the head of the CFPB today. The President gets to nominate someone to a five-year term subject to Senate confirmation. But the CFPB begins at the Treasury Department before transitioning to the Federal Reserve, and in that time, Treasury can appoint an acting director without Senate action needed. It would make sense to align the President’s nominee with the acting director, and everyone should expect that to happen, on the same day if possible. Given the situation with Obama nominees and Senate gridlock, there should be no reason that Warren languishes when the clear rules of the Dodd-Frank law allow for an acting director to be appointed.

As for the merits, Warren would transform the CFPB at the earliest point in its development, and could remake it into a real defender for the middle class against the illegal, predatory schemes of the banks and other financial firms. There would be no greater champion for ordinary consumers at this agency which Warren literally invented in her head. On the politics, it can only help the President with the base, and in fact, a failure to nominate Warren would be quite damaging.

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David Dayen

David Dayen