Elizabeth Warren… the woman who knew too much

Vanity Fair has a great feature on the troubled history of the Customer Financial Protection Bureau, and the forces on Wall Street, in Congress, and inside the White House that ultimately alligned against Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor who had created the ambitious new agency charged with protecting the American people from the predatory practices of the financial industry. Here’s a clip:

…By April, however, Warren’s standing in the White House was shaky. Three months earlier, in what was seen as an attempt to “repair” his relationship with his Wall Street donors, Obama had brought in William Daley as his new chief of staff. A former banker at JPMorgan Chase, Daley came into the administration just as senior Obama adviser David Axelrod left. But while Axelrod and another top adviser, Valerie Jarrett, were perceived as strong Warren supporters, Daley had reportedly opposed the creation of the C.F.P.B. A spokesperson for the White House said that, although Daley was “not recused from” discussions about the C.F.P.B., he chose “not to participate in the process of selecting a nominee for C.F.P.B. director.” Which is possible. But with Daley and Geithner—one of Obama’s closest advisers—sharing center stage, the balance of power in the debate over Warren shifted. Geithner would never criticize Warren publicly—and indeed, as a Treasury spokesperson says, he “has expressed his support and admiration for Professor Warren many times”—but few people in Washington doubted that he remained opposed to her candidacy. To at least one person who saw them in meetings together it appeared that “he looked down on her for no apparent or justifiable reason.” As for Warren, if one mentions the video “Elizabeth Warren Makes Timmy Geithner Squirm,” she says nothing, but an impish smile crosses her face.

By this spring, Spencer Bachus, along with his fellow Alabaman, Senator Richard Shelby, was one of the C.F.P.B.’s leading opponents. But they would be joined by the vast majority of Republicans. Some of them had previously admitted to having no particular interest in or understanding of banking, but had developed strong feelings about the C.F.P.B. after receiving campaign donations from banking groups. Among them was former MTV Real World star Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican elected to Congress in 2010, who has been showered with $178,000 in campaign donations from the financial sector for his next election. But the real battle was against Dodd-Frank. Attempts were popping up throughout Congress to slash the budgets of regulatory agencies, including the C.F.P.B. There was even one that denied funding for a consumer-complaint database at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which businesses had opposed on the grounds that consumers might call in fake complaints. In a sense, says Barney Frank, the C.F.P.B. and Warren had become “a symbol” in a broader battle that was partly ideological. The anti-government, free-market, unregulated-business-as-the-savior-of-America sentiment of the Republican Party today, assisted by Wall Street’s campaign donations, dovetailed perfectly with the interests of the country’s banking Goliaths. To a degree, the attitude regarding Warren, Frank says, was “How dare this woman criticize the free-enterprise system?”

But it wasn’t just Republicans. In May, Christopher Dodd, the former Democratic senator from Connecticut, who had chaired the powerful Senate Banking Committee, denied to Politico the rumors that he was trying to kill Warren’s nomination. But his cryptic statement about people with “ego” problems standing in the way of the bureau was widely seen as a poison dart aimed at Warren. During the passage of Dodd-Frank, Dodd, who is now chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, was seen as one of Warren’s more influential opponents. Among Wall Street’s staunchest allies—to the tune, in his last election, of almost $4 million in campaign donations for a race he did not even complete—he had sponsored the reform bill in the Senate but had several times appeared to yield to bank opposition, entertaining a number of proposals that would have either killed the C.F.P.B. outright or severely restricted its independence. Warren fought back, not only by calling in support from the White House, but also by speaking out in public. In March 2010 she lashed out in the Huffington Post: “My first choice is a strong consumer agency,” she said. “My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”

If the friction between Warren and Dodd was an open secret, there would be other Democrats—apparent allies—who also appeared to be trying to pry her away from the C.F.P.B. Those most notable would be Senators Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, who led the effort, which began in the late spring, to encourage Warren to leave Washington to run against Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican, who is up for re-election next year. Some speculated that they were doing the president’s dirty work, trying to rescue him from a tough decision. But others would note the gush of Wall Street donations these Democrats received for their 2010 elections: $6.2 million for Chuck Schumer, the most of any senator, and $4.7 million for Harry Reid, who would clock in as the third-highest beneficiary of Wall Street largesse in the Senate—after New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand—according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In a letter dated May 2, 2011, 44 Republican senators issued an ultimatum to Obama. Citing “the lack of accountability in the structure” of the C.F.P.B., and “the unprecedented authority” of its director “over financial institutions and main street businesses,” they announced that they would block the confirmation of anyone he chose to nominate as C.F.P.B. director unless the bureau’s structure was overhauled. There were many in Washington who viewed this as the perfect opportunity for Obama to appoint Warren during a congressional recess. It would have triggered a bitter fight in Congress, but one that many of Warren’s supporters believed was worth having. “It would have sharpened the issues,” says Jonathan Alter, the author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One.

But for weeks Obama did nothing. As the attacks on Warren and the C.F.P.B. heated up during May and June, the silence from the White House was deafening. Even leading Democrats, like Barney Frank, were confused about the president’s intentions—would he name Warren in a recess appointment or not? And they were stunned when Obama jettisoned her.

…But the fight for Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat is expected to redefine brutal. A Republican golden boy and Wall Street favorite, Brown was rolling in campaign money—some $10 million—even before Warren’s announcement, thanks in large part to the financial industry’s largesse. With Warren in the race, the Republican party and the nation’s corporatocracy is expected to flood Brown’s coffers with even more cash…

Here, speaking of Warren, is a video that was just sent to me by my friend Joel. It goes on a bit too long for my taste, but there are definitely some good moments, like where she says, “My name is Elizabeth Warren, and I will fix this shit myself, if I have to.” [The woman doing the impression is named Molly Erdman.]

And, as long as we’re sharing funny videos, here’s another one that you might like. This one is of U-M Law School graduate Ann Coulter, explaining how those individuals currently involved in the “Occupy” movement are, if you can believe it, possessed by demonic forces.

To give to the Warren for Senate campaign click here.

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  1. dragon
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    I picked up my bag and I went lookin’ for a place to hide
    When I saw Lis’beth and the Devil walkin’ side by side
    And I said, “Hey, Lis’beth, come on, would you go downtown”
    And she said, “Well, I gotta go but my friend can stick around”

    And take a load off Fanny
    Take a load for free
    Take a load off Fanny
    And you put the load right on me

  2. Tommy
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    … But for weeks Obama did nothing …. says it all. When so many factions were against her – on both sides of the aisle – you know they were scared shitless of what she could do given control of this organization. I hope she wins.

  3. Edward
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I’ve heard it said that Conservatives demonize their opponents, but I’ve never actually seen it happen in a literal sense.

  4. Elf
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    When people ask what disappoints me most about Obama, what he did to Elizabeth Warren and the CFPB is right up there with killing U.S. citizens without due process, the keeping open of Gitmo, the refusal to prosecute Wall Street, and the unwillingness to fight for a public option. It’s disgraceful.

    Even more disgraceful is the fact that I’ll probably vote to reelect him.

  5. Meta
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Video of Geithner squirming.


  6. Mr. X
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    NR had a story about this today.


  7. Mr. X
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Also, I don’t like to throw around Nazi analogies, but I can’t help but think that Coulter would have fit right in with the likes of Joseph Goebbels.

  8. TaterSalad
    Posted October 16, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Does Elizabeth Warren also qualify as one of those big bad greedy rich people or are all of you on this website, including Mark going to be your usual hypocritical selves?

    Oh and if you’re still worried whether Elizabeth Warren has enough to eat, her Harvard salary was around 632,000 dollars. Her workload? Teaching a class on contract law twice a week. It’s not exactly shoveling coal in a coal mine. Class warfare it turns out is a game for the rich.

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