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Barney Frank: “Republicans are completely afraid of Elizabeth Warren”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA)

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, thinks that the Republican efforts to both block any appointment for the Directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to now block recess appointments so a Director cannot be installed, comprises an “outrageous abuse of the Constitution,” and must mean that the “Republicans are completely afraid of Elizabeth Warren,” who is currently setting up the bureau, and who is the leading candidate to take it over.

“It’s not an option to advise and consent, it’s a duty,” Frank told me in a brief interview. OK, it wasn’t so much an interview as it was Barney Frank talking to me and then me thanking him for the call. But here’s what he said. First, Republicans in the Senate vowed not to allow anyone to be confirmed – “not just Warren, but anyone” – unless they got their way on gutting the agency. The natural response was to use the Constitutional power of a recess appointment to navigate beyond this. But “now they’re complaining about a recess appointment,” Frank said. “They caused the problem and now they’re objecting to its solution. It’s an incredible spectacle. I’ve never seen the Republicans work so hard over anything than to stop this consumer agency.”

Frank dismissed the constraints that Republicans wanted to place on the agency, which amounted to defanging it. “They want to amend the law so bank regulators have control over what the agency does,” Frank said. “These are the regulators who Spencer Bachus (the new Republican chair of the House Financial Services Committee) said their job is to serve the banks.”

Frank begged off a resolution of this issue through the Senate, saying he wasn’t familiar enough with the rules of that chamber, though he added that “my guess is that a majority can get something done.” But he saw the best avenue for success as raising public pressure over the appointment. He said that Republicans usually pull a frontal assault to get their way – wanting to repeal the health care law or roll back the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations, for example. In this case, because protecting consumers is popular, to achieve their ends of crippling the agency “they’ll do it in complicated ways.”  [cont’d.]

The problem is that nobody really knows or understands what it is Republicans are doing, with respect to blocking recess appointments, or demanding conditions for confirming a director. “The media has been focused on the international situation and debt,” Frank said. “The Republicans are counting on mass attention deficit disorder.”

Told that the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has over 175,000 people on a petition to get Warren a recess appointment, Frank was pleased, but since the game has changed, he thought the pressure needed to be targeted at Republican Senators. “If the public fully understood what these guys are doing they wouldn’t stand for it.”

While we’re at it, I have a suggestion for the Democratic leadership in the Senate. Republicans are not allowing the chamber to adjourn. Why oblige them? Why not keep them in session as long as humanly possible? Why not run live quorum calls forcing the sergeant of arms to forcibly return Senators to the chamber? Why not hold votes every five minutes on issues Republicans care about? Why not get unanimous consent requests on pretty much everything on the Democratic wish list? Why allow pro forma sessions? I suspect Republicans, needing to get home to their fundraisers, would reach a deal pretty quickly.

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David Dayen

David Dayen