On Monday, a coalition of groups fighting to reform the nation's financial system formally endorsed Harvard Law professor and bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Americans for Financial Reform, an alliance of more than 250 organizations that has spent the past year advocating for financial reform legislation, said that Warren is the "most experienced, effective and independent person" to serve as the critical first chief of the new agency.
The endorsement comes on the heels of Thursday's Huffington Post report that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner opposes Warren's nomination, and Friday's statements by a senior White House adviser and top Geithner lieutenants at Treasury that Warren was "well qualified" for the position, yet nonetheless was only one of three top candidates.
AFR includes top labor groups and progressive advocacy organizations with deep ties to the Obama administration, including AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union.
"[Elizabeth] Warren has shown a steadfast and tireless commitment to protecting consumers throughout her distinguished career and is without question the best candidate to run the new CFPB," Heather Booth, AFR's director, said in a statement.
"We join many others in encouraging the White House to quickly move to nominate Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau," Booth added.
Some Democratic groups, like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, announced their support for Warren on Friday. The PCCC even launched an online petition urging President Barack Obama to pick Warren as the chief of the new agency designed to protect consumers from predatory lenders. More than 100,000 people have signed it so far.
"There was some urgency to move forward" on the endorsement, an AFR spokesman said. The group drafted its statement over the weekend, intending to get it out before Monday.
The move may put increased pressure on the White House to select Warren to head the new entity. Consumer advocates and financial lobbyists agree that the first director will have a tremendous impact on the agency that will likely last beyond the director's term. A strong consumer protector will ensure tough consumer protections for years, as the agency's staff and the director's successors will take their cue from precedent; a weak chief nearly guarantees an ineffectual agency that will fall short of the promises advocated by the soon-to-be enacted financial reform legislation.
Sources say Geithner supports one of his top deputies, Michael Barr, for the position. Barr, a former law professor and Treasury Department official during the Clinton administration, has drawn raves from consumer groups for his role in ensuring the survival of the new agency as the financial reform bill made its way through Congress. Though reformers have clashed with Barr on other aspects of the bill, he's widely praised for his efforts on consumer protection.
But the agency is largely Warren's idea. A noted defender of the middle class, she's widely embraced by progressives and Democrats in Congress.
"Elizabeth Warren is a great, great champion for consumers and middle-class families across the country," White House senior adviser David Axelrod told reporters on a Friday conference call. "She has helped inform this effort greatly and what has been done here in many ways reflects something she's been advocating for years and years and years."
Warren introduced the idea for a consumer agency in a 2007 journal article. She's done extensive research on the debt-strapped middle class, bankruptcy and the working poor.
Geithner's spokesman, Andrew Williams, called Warren a "driving force" behind the new agency's creation.
Warren currently serves as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, a watchdog created to keep tabs on the federal bailout. Barr serves as Treasury's assistant secretary for financial institutions.
The third candidate, Eugene Kimmelman, is a former top official at consumer advocacy groups Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, Public Citizen. He now works in the Justice Department's antitrust division.
Kimmelman's former employers are part of AFR.
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