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Treasury’s War on Elizabeth Warren

While continuing to try and repeal the Affordable Care Act, victorious Republicans can be expected to try to repeal or at least de-fund Wall Street reform. Central to those efforts will be to kneecap the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And there’s at least some evidence that they might have help from the inside.

Zach Carter speculates on a couple recent developments that the Treasury Department is at best making Elizabeth Warren’s job more difficult, and at worst actively undermining it. Two small Politico items set the stage for this concern:

The Politico pieces have been petty, but there’s no doubt they both came from Treasury. On Oct. 12, Politico ran a piece featuring this anonymous nugget (among others):

Some at Treasury grumble that Warren, in her early memos, spent much time detailing what press she was going to do . . . rather than the nuts and bolts of setting up an agency.

Then yesterday, in Politico’s Morning Money column:

NEW PAINT JOB – We also hear that while Warren is out west, her Treasury office is getting a makeover (Warren will have digs both at Treasury and the CFPB’s L Street headquarters). That’s something of a rarity for Treasury officials, who usually leave their offices as-is. There is much internal debate as to exactly what color it is that is going up on Warren’s walls. One person called it “Arizona sunset,” another “terra cotta.”

Both of these represent the kind of meaningless, issue-free pseudo-news that serves as Politico’s bread-and-butter. The actual complaints themselves, of course, are preposterous. Warren is painting her office and making media appearances—exactly the sort of things you’d expect the head of a new federal agency to be doing during her first weeks on the job. But look at the frame Treasury is putting on the stories. In both, Warren is portrayed as an ego-centric fluff-monger, not a serious policymaker. Look at fancy Elizabeth Warren painting her office! Our humble boss Timothy Geithner would never do such a thing!

By the way, you can see very clearly in this video, taken in Warren’s office, that there’s no paint job of any sort. But there’s definitely a profile being painted here.

It’s not clear whether this is some official policy or just a few angry Treasury staffers lashing out. But you have to take into account the New York Times hit piece against Raj Date to get the full context here. Many reform advocates are concerned that something larger is afoot, and that Treasury may have been behind the Date article. The article itself got basic facts wrong, according to the company Date used to work for, and generally represented a failed attempt to smear Date and the agency.

Warren knows very well that there are forces who want to kill the agency, and I don’t think she’s so naive to think that none of those forces come from down the hall. She has undertaken a public relations strategy to insulate the bureau, and it’s working in one sense to get favorable press. But she probably cannot shoulder the burden alone. Mike Lux writes:

All the passion so many people are showing makes it all the more galling to have certain as yet to be found out people in the Treasury department, people who owe their jobs to all of you who worked so hard to get President Obama elected in 2008, stabbing us all in the back in the very last days of this campaign […]

I have always told people that working in the Clinton White House, I met some of the best people I have ever known and some of the worst. There are people who are in government for all the right reasons, because they want to make the country a better place and really help improve the lives of regular people. Elizabeth Warren is one of the very best of that group. And there are people who are in government because they are looking to brownnose the industries they are supposed to be regulating so they can get a really high paying lobbyist job after a few years in government. It is very clear that some of the people in Treasury, certainly the people doing these absurd attacks, are in the latter category. They don’t care about screwing over the President and the Democratic Party in the days before the election, and they certainly don’t care about helping consumers. What they care about is sucking up to the Wall Street bankers who they hope will give them a sweet job sometime soon.

I have a message for the leakers at Treasury, though: you are playing with fire. The two people closest to the President at the White House, Pete Rouse and Valerie Jarrett, are huge fans of Warren, and I know these leaks have caught their attention. I would love to see a serious investigation into these leaks once the election is over, and it just might happen. And whatever happens on the inside, the entire progressive community- bloggers, members of Congress, labor and consumer organizations- have Elizabeth Warren’s back. Right now, unlike you leakers, we are focused on winning elections, but after the election, we will be gunning for you.

Expect this to heat up over the next several weeks.

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David Dayen

David Dayen