The National Organization for Women is asking whether President Barack Obama's apparent reluctance to nominate Elizabeth Warren to head a new consumer agency is due to sexism, according to an email the group sent supporters Tuesday.
The noted consumer advocate, Wall Street bailout watchdog and Harvard Law professor is one of three candidates the White House has identified as leading contenders to head the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The agency, conceived by Warren in a 2007 article, was created as part of the financial reform bill Obama last week signed into law.
Bank lobbies fought to kill the agency while it was under consideration in Congress, and have expressed concern with a Warren nomination. The agency will regulate consumer credit products like mortgages and credit cards and some fear she could be too aggressive in protecting consumers from dubious lending practices, cutting off key sources of profitability for banks.
But while Obama administration officials, liberal Democrats and some Republicans are in near-universal agreement that Warren is well-qualified to run the agency, Obama, though praising Warren last week, has thus far declined to nominate her for the Senate-confirmed role. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has expressed opposition to her nomination, according to a source with knowledge of Geithner's views, the Huffington Post reported July 15. Treasury Department and White House officials, while effusive in their praise of Warren, have not denied the report, despite repeated opportunities.
Now, the nation's leading women's organization alleges sexism may be at play.
"If confirmed, Warren would protect consumers from further economic meltdowns caused by shady loans and credit," NOW wrote in its e-mail to supporters. "She would also demand accountability and consumer-friendly practices from Wall Street banks. But she's not part of the old boys club, so NOW asks: Could sexism be at work in denying her this position?"
The group went on to say that it hopes Obama "doesn't listen" to his top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, because of what NOW considers to be his allegedly sexist views.
"[S]ome of the president's top financial advisors, like Larry Summers, have expressed biased and blatantly sexist views about women's abilities," NOW wrote. "In 2005, Summers said, concerning women's aptitude for science and math, 'It does appear that on many, many different human attributes -- overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability -- there is relatively clear evidence that ... there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population.' Essentially, he claimed that men are innately inclined to be better at math and science than women.
"Let's hope that Obama doesn't listen to Summers on this decision!" the group wrote in its e-mail.
In an interview last week with ABC News, Obama called Warren a "wonderful voice making a very simple point, which is, if you've got a set of rules and standards in place to make sure your toaster doesn't blow up in your face, you should have some rules and regulations to make sure your credit card or mortgage doesn't blow up in your face."
Obama said he has the "highest regard" for her, but that he has yet to make a decision regarding possible appointment.
"[B]ut here's my guarantee," Obama added. "Elizabeth is going to be working with me, working with Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, to help in thinking about how do we make this consumer agency as effective as possible looking out for consumers. She is going to be actively involved in that process."
One consumer advocate involved in the effort to get the financial reform bill through Congress speculated that the "guarantee" could simply be a guarantee to keep Warren involved in consumer protection without actually nominating her for the role. Something similar was promised June 16 by David Axelrod, one of Obama's top advisers.
"The President believes Elizabeth Warren is a champion for middle class families and consumers, and her work on consumer protection issues helped guide his original proposal and will continue to play an important role on this issue going forward," Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. "Though the President has not named someone to this post less than a week after signing the bill, Elizabeth Warren will continue to play a vital role regardless in ensuring the consumer agency is as effective as possible."
The organization's accusation follows up a similar allegation from a member of Congress.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, wrote in a July 20 blog post on HuffPost that opposition to Warren may be due to sexism.
"The good old boy network of investors is uncomfortable around her," Speier wrote. "Is this because she is a woman in a male-dominated 'sport,' or is it that she's an advocate for middle-class families who sees nothing amusing about winning and losing with people's life savings?"
Charges of sexism in financial regulation aren't new.
In 2008, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank alleged sexism was partly at play when it came to the Wall Street bailout and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Sheila Bair's role in the negotiations.
Bair allegedly "annoyed the Old Boys Club," Frank said, likening the situation to several regulators "up in the treehouse with a 'No Girls Allowed' sign," according to a Politico.
In 1998, critics allege that sexism also played a role when financial regulators in the Clinton administration -- led in part by Summers -- objected to a proposal regulating over-the-counter derivatives that was championed by Brooksley E. Born, then-chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. At the time the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission were all headed by men.
However, while financial regulation has traditionally been dominated by men, there are some women in important roles today. The FDIC and SEC are both currently headed by women -- one of whom was appointed by Obama -- and two of Obama's three picks to join the Fed's Board of Governors are women.
The Treasury Department, though, continues to be led by mostly men. Of the top 20 officials Treasury lists on its Web site, just five are women.
Men also lead the CFTC, the OCC and the Fed. Of the five current Fed governors, just one -- Elizabeth Duke -- is a woman.
READ the NOW e-mail:
Watchdog Not Lapdog Needed to Reform Wall Street, Tell Obama to Nominate Elizabeth Warren to Head Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
On July 23, President Obama signed into law a sweeping financial reform bill, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency that would closely monitor Wall Street practices concerning credit and loans. Such an agency was originally proposed by Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor and expert on bankruptcy and credit. Warren is the most qualified and most obvious choice for head of this bureau, but she's definitely not favored by Wall Street and its sympathizers in the government.
If confirmed, Warren would protect consumers from further economic meltdowns caused by shady loans and credit. She would also demand accountability and consumer-friendly practices from Wall Street banks. But she's not part of the old boys club, so NOW asks: Could sexism be at work in denying her this position?
Write President Obama today and tell him that the people of the United States want a head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who will promote the interests of consumers, not the interests of big banks. Tell him we want Elizabeth Warren!
In 2007, Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor, wrote an article in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas that proposed the creation of a government agency to protect consumers from duplicitous credit practices, much the same way that consumers are protected from faulty or dangerous products. Three years later, the government has taken Warren's advice and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as part of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed on July 23.
The bureau would have the power to oversee, analyze, and regulate credit and loans, including credit cards and mortgages. It would protect consumers from any abusive banking practices and would also be able to monitor Wall Street to prevent another economic meltdown. Overall, the purpose of the bureau is consumer protection, and it needs a head who will be on the side of everyday people, not the rich and superrich.
Elizabeth Warren is more than qualified to head this bureau. She is an expert on bankruptcy, a distinguished researcher and the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, which monitored the Wall Street bailouts. Her background, experience, and commitment to the welfare of consumers make her the most obvious choice for head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
However, those on Wall Street and government officials who support them do not want Warren to head the bureau, as they know that she would boldly stand up for consumers and crack down on the underhanded practices of big banks. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has voiced objections to Warren, and though he's since described her as "an enormously effective leader," he still has not said that he would recommend her nomination.
Some of the president's top financial advisors, like Larry Summers, have expressed biased and blatantly sexist views about women's abilities. In 2005, Summers said, concerning women's aptitude for science and math, "It does appear that on many, many different human attributes--overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability--there is relatively clear evidence that ...there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population." Essentially, he claimed that men are innately inclined to be better at math and science than women. Let's hope that Obama doesn't listen to Summers on this decision!
The consumers of the U.S. need a strong watchdog like Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, not a Wall Street lapdog.
Shahien Nasiripour is the business reporter for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail; bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed; follow him on Twitter; friend him on Facebook; become a fan; and/or get e-mail alerts when he reports the latest news. He can be reached at 646-274-2455.