If President Obama fears Elizabeth Warren won't be confirmed by the Senate to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he should just appoint her while the Senate is on one of its many vacations, House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank said Friday.
Referring to her as "far and away the best candidate," Frank said Warren, a noted consumer advocate and bailout watchdog who conceived the agency in a 2007 article, not only cares about protecting consumers but also has the political chops to get things done for them in Washington.
"If [Warren] can't be confirmed she should be a recess [appointment]," Frank, who helped shepherd the recently-enacted financial reform bill into law, told the Huffington Post on Friday.
"Given the way [the Senate has] misused the filibuster... given it's anti-Democratic, I think the President did exactly the right thing with Donald Berwick," the 15-term Massachusetts Congressman added, referring to an earlier Obama recess appointment to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services.
Warren, a popular pick to lead the new consumer agency she envisioned, has seen her chances threatened by other candidates for the job. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner prefers Michael Barr, his assistant secretary for financial institutions and a veteran of the Clinton-era Treasury, according to people familiar with Geithner's views.
White House officials say the shortlist also includes Eugene Kimmelman, a former top official at consumer advocacy groups Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America and Public Citizen who now works in the Justice Department's antitrust division.
Warren's critics cite as black marks her perceived lack of management experience, her distaste for Washington politics and, curiously, her vigorous advocacy on behalf of consumers.
But Frank pushed back against those arguments, particularly on the question of Warren's political savvy.
"I think, frankly -- and I've said this to [administration officials] -- she's the 'advocate', supposedly, and Michael Barr is the 'inside guy'. But, frankly, Michael Barr's initial proposal for the consumer agency had some problems in it politically that Elizabeth understood and helped us work around," Frank said. "So I think she's better even on the political side of it. She's the better choice."
Warren is a noted defender of the middle class, widely respected for her research on debt-strapped Americans, bankruptcy and the working poor. White House senior adviser David Axelrod lauded her efforts last week during a conference call with reporters -- though he stopped short of endorsing her for the CFPB, noting "there are other candidates."
"Elizabeth Warren is a great, great champion for consumers and middle-class families across the country," Axelrod said. "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."
Earlier this week, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd expressed reservations about Warren's odds of being confirmed by the Senate. White House officials quickly shot back, assuring reporters that Warren is "confirmable."
Frank said he doesn't really care.
"There is some concern that she would be hard to confirm," he allowed. "My answer is, in the first place, I'm not sure I'd want anybody who's easy to confirm given the way the Senate is."
Frank resisted efforts to water down the financial reform bill's consumer protection provisions. In fact, when asked what he thought of placing the consumer agency inside the Federal Reserve -- a place it will soon occupy thanks to a series of compromises -- Frank reportedly asked if it was a "joke."
"Secondly, I don't think you give in to the threat of a filibuster," Frank continued. "I think you make them do it. There would be such strong support for her that she would get confirmed.
"I think she has a strong populist appeal," he added.
The New Republic reported Friday that Charles Fried, a former solicitor general under Ronald Reagan who supported the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, supported Warren for the consumer position.
"I support capitalism, and I don't like thieves. And the people who got us into this mess are thieves, or there are a lot of thieves among them," Fried, one of Warren's colleagues at Harvard Law School, told TNR.
"She's far and away the best candidate," Frank said. "And... though there's some concern, I guess, over whether she could be confirmed, that's no reason not to go ahead and make the fight."
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