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Warren Appointment Becomes Funhouse Mirror

It’s hard for me to stir up any genuine outrage or praise over the imminent Elizabeth Warren appointment, because I don’t really know what it is, and for that matter, nobody else does. I trust Warren to make the most of whatever job has been offered, but find the best response to be “Meh.”

Asked by TPM whether he knew what Warren’s role will be, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd answered simply, “No.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — a strong Warren backer — is cautiously optimistic.

“That is a very good question,” Sanders said when TPM asked if he understood what Warren’s new job really is. “And the answer is no. And that is not insignificant.”

“The real question is: Will she be in a powerful position to protect consumers against Wall Street greed?” Sanders said. “And if she is, it will be probably the very best appointment that President Obama has made…but you’re right, the devil remains in the details.”

After calling Warren “the czar of all czars,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) acknowledged, in response to a question from TPM that he’s not sure what her authority will be.

“Maybe we ought to see,” Corker said. “It appears to me that exactly the things that many of us thought were going to happen have happened. We’ll see. Maybe there are some details here that we’re missing.”

Some are confident enough in their own view of the world to assign meaning to this position – former Commerce Secretary nominee Judd Gregg said, horror of horrors, Warren may practice “social justice” – but most people are just perplexed. And that’s because, as I said, the question of who will ultimately run and shape the agency is incomplete. I think Chris Dodd actually gets part of this right here:

“What I gather is Elizabeth will be some sort of adviser in all this,” Dodd, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, told reporters in the Capitol. “They need to send us a director, though, a nominee. The issue’s no different today than it was yesterday. We need a nominee that can be confirmed by the Senate to run the place.”

That’s true. And that nominee should still be Elizabeth Warren. But given that Treasury is standing up the agency, that can wait for a certain period. In the meantime, it’s great that she’ll have some authority over the management, direction and staffing of the agency, but it’s completely unclear what that authority will contain.

Later on, Dodd acknowledged that he expected the Administration to send Warren’s name. They still should.

And incidentally, the best way to ensure that the President gets the advisors and staff he really wants is to change the indescribably poor Senate rules that allow for endless obstruction and delay. We wouldn’t have a problem like this if a majority could deliver their advise and consent and nominations could be dealt with in a swift manner. The linchpin of all this confusion is the filibuster. It forces the White House to creatively work around the legislative branch. The better solution would be to change the Senate rules.

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David Dayen

David Dayen