Warren Appointment Could Circumvent Senate Vote

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Elizabeth Warren is credited with the idea of creating a consumer financial credit agency similar to the consumer product safety commission. That made her a hero to some and a zealot to others. That, in turn, has put the Obama administration in a bind over whether she can be confirmed by the Senate to head the new agency. One option: Postpone the decision on a chairman and make Warren a presidential adviser who doesn't need Senate approval but can still get the commission up and running.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Obama reportedly plans to name Elizabeth Warren to a new post in his administration. Her job would be to help shape a new consumer protection agency. It was created as part of the government's financial overhaul. But the move would sidestep the Senate and avoid a near certain confirmation battle for Warren.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, she has become a lightening rod, beloved by consumer groups but feared by bankers.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama insists he's a fan of Elizabeth Warren's. He noted last week it was her idea to set up a government agency for the sole purpose of protecting consumers against risky home loans and credit cards.

President BARACK OBAMA: She's a dear friend of mine. She's somebody I've known since I was in law school. And, you know, I have been in conversations with her. She is a tremendous advocate for this idea.

HORSLEY: Warren is a Harvard professor whose pioneering research on the causes of bankruptcy made her a crusader against unfair lending practices.

But Mr. Obama is hesitating to formally nominate Warren as director of the new consumer bureau. While liberal groups have championed her cause, bankers were expected to oppose her nomination. And a drawn out battle in the Senate could've sidelined Warren for months, just as the new agency is trying to get off the ground.

Pres. OBAMA: I am concerned about all Senate nominations these days. I've got people who've been waiting for six months to get confirmed, who nobody has an official objection to and who were voted out of committee unanimously and I can't get a vote on them.

HORSLEY: So, Mr. Obama reportedly will circumvent the Senate, naming Warren to a temporary post in the White House and the Treasury Department. The idea has drawn cautious applause from Warren's liberal supporters.

Julia Rosen, who's with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, calls it a win for consumers, provided that Warren's role is not mere window dressing.

Ms. JULIA ROSEN (Progressive Change Campaign Committee): President Obama needs to make it clear that this appointment gives Elizabeth Warren real power to fight for consumers.

HORSLEY: Business groups, on the other hand, are wary. David Hirschmann heads the Center for Capital Markets at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. His group fought against the consumer agency in the first place.

Mr. DAVID HIRSCHMANN (Center for Capital Markets, U.S. Chamber of Commerce): For us the real question is, which path will this agency follow? Will it focus on improving disclosure for consumers and enforcing the law? Or is it going to be a more political effort to reallocate credit, restrict consumer choices? The latter would be the wrong prescription for the current economy.

HORSLEY: Hirschmann says a Warren confirmation hearing might have answered that question, but now it appears there won't be one. That's also created some grumbling among senators from both parties. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker warns sidestepping the confirmation process means one less check on the powerful consumer bureau.

Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): You know, in the wee hours when we were debating this issue, this is exactly the kind of thing that I think Republicans feared happening and no doubt it has played itself out and it's happening.

HORSLEY: Democrat Chris Dodd, who chairs the Banking Committee, argues whatever advisory role Warren plays now, the new consumer bureau will eventually need a permanent director.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): Who's gonna actually run the place? 'Cause you need a director and you need someone that's confirmable. And anything short of that I think you're going to put this bureau in some jeopardy.

HORSLEY: For months now, Dodd has questioned whether Warren could be confirmed for the director's job. Some liberals wanted to have that fight, arguing it could energize Democratic voters before the November elections.

But for now, the president seems to have decided Warren is less valuable as a political symbol than she is working in the White House to shape the new consumer protection bureau.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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