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Warren Seeks Permanent CFPB Chief

Damian Paletta and Victoria McGrane report that Elizabeth Warren and Raj Date are asking around for who could be the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and we actually have a few names.

White House adviser Elizabeth Warren and a top lieutenant are quietly asking business and consumer groups for names of people who might run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, people familiar with the matter said.

The hunt suggests that Ms. Warren, a lightning rod for some bankers, might not be selected to lead the bureau, a centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill that passed this summer. Still, many liberal groups will push to get her in the post.

President Barack Obama’s choice could signal how he intends to deal with resurgent Republicans in Congress. The feelers to business groups serve as a reminder that any nominee would likely need support from at least seven Republicans in the Senate to win confirmation.

Among the names being discussed are Iowa’s attorney general, Tom Miller; New York state bank regulator Richard Neiman; and former Office of Thrift Supervision director Ellen Seidman.

None of these candidates commented on whether they have been contacted. I think Miller’s great, but he’s leading the 50 state AG investigation into foreclosure fraud, and so I can’t see how he would jump ship until that investigation gets resolved. Miller famously said “we will put people in jail” in regards to the investigation. Neiman was appointed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer as the top bank regulator in New York State; previously, he was the CEO of TD Bank. He’s also one of two state regulators working on the 50 state AG investigation, and sits on the Congressional Oversight Panel (which Warren chaired before getting the Treasury job). Seidman was the director of OTS under Bill Clinton, then moved to the New America Foundation. She currently works for ShoreBank, a non-profit that helps banks work with underbanked customers.

I would prefer to see Warren in the position. But all three of these particular names have good credentials. Despite Neiman’s work at TD Bank, which is not exactly a Wall Street giant, none of these three are the typical suspects you’d see in an industry capture scenario.

Many have pointed to the fact that a wide range of groups have been consulted about the position; those named in the article include the Independent Community Bankers of America, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Center for Responsible Lending. That pretty much runs the gamut from big banks to fierce consumer advocates.

There does need to be a nominee in place pretty soon. The agency will be formally shifted to the Federal Reserve by July, when other agencies will transfer their consumer protection powers over. It would likely take months for a nominee to be confirmed, and so one would have to be named in the next few months.

As with all of these kinds of articles, this list of names could be conclusive or mean absolutely nothing. It could represent a wish list from one side or the other, or a misdirection. I’d wait for an actual nomination before drawing conclusions.

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David Dayen

David Dayen