WASHINGTON -- A leading House Democrat said Thursday that some opposition to making Elizabeth Warren head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is because she is a woman.
Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said some of the resistance to Warren, a Harvard law professor, is because of a feeling that a woman should not tell bankers what to do.
"Some people almost unconsciously think that for a woman to be in an important position regarding the titans of the financial industry is not appropriate," Frank said at a news conference. He said while that attitude hasn't affected the substance of the debate over Warren, "The tone has been exacerbated."
Asked about his remarks later, he did not name any people or cite any specific instances in which Warren's gender has played a role in her treatment.
At the same news conference, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., also said that when "the other side can't win arguments on their merits – and I would add, especially when they're threatened by an accomplished and articulate woman – that's when they make it personal."
Woolsey provided no specific examples.
The consumer bureau was created by last year's financial overhaul law, which President Barack Obama signed after it passed Congress despite strong Republican opposition. Obama appointed Warren to oversee the organization of the agency, which officially goes into business on July 21, but he has yet to nominate anyone to be its director.
Many Democrats and liberal groups want Obama to nominate Warren to head the bureau.
Warren, credited with originating the idea for the agency, has had a hostile reception from many congressional Republicans who say she lacks a sufficient financial industry background. Republicans would be all but certain to defeat her nomination should it come to a Senate vote.
Asked Thursday about Frank's remarks, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., said most GOP objections are not to Warren herself but to creation of a single director for the agency. He praised her intelligence and commitment to consumer protection and called her a "straight-shooter."
Last month, Senate Republicans led by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., wrote a letter to Obama promising to block any nominee to head the bureau unless some of its powers were watered down, including giving Congress more control over the agency's budget and replacing the director's job with a five-member commission. Shelby is top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.
Asked about Frank's remarks, Shelby spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said, "That's beyond baseless. It's just outright silly."
Frank and Woolsey, along with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., were among 89 House Democrats who sent Obama a letter Thursday urging him to use his power to appoint Warren temporarily to the job the next time the Senate takes a recess. So-called recess appointments are permitted under the Constitution but last only until the end of next session of the Senate.