Elizabeth Warren’s new job

By Felix Salmon
September 17, 2010
introduced to the public by Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden.

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Elizabeth Warren had a conference call with left-wing bloggers this afternoon, just after being introduced to the public by Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden. She said that she first started talking to Barack Obama about a consumer financial protection agency in December 2006 — before even her Democracy article came out.

As of Monday, when she moves in to her new office and already has lunch scheduled with Tim Geithner, Warren is going to be a fully-fledged member of the White House economic team, meeting with the president and the rest of his economic advisors on a regular basis. Yes, her portfolio will specifically be consumer protection, but she’ll be able to advise in any area where she feels she can add value.

She was also clear that she has the authority to get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau up and running as quickly as she can — to hire people, set the budget, and so forth. She wouldn’t be drawn on the question of appointing a director, or whether she has any desire to return to Harvard. But she was clear that she was excited “to make this shift from being on the outside to being on the inside”.

She also talked a lot about being “willing to fight back on behalf middle-class families”. Her vision for the CFPB is very focused on the middle class: there was no mention, for instance, of the unbanked or of yesterday’s poverty numbers. You can be sure they would have featured much more prominently had Michael Barr got the nod.

So the message was clear: The CFPB is Warren’s baby, she’s in control, and she has the explicit support of Obama to get cracking at full speed. I reckon she’ll start off with a lot of momentum, and that it’s going to be pretty much impossible to stop her once she gets started. For the time being, it seems, the question of who will be appointed director and when is a moot one. It’s going to have to be addressed at some point before the end of Obama’s first term in office, but I’m not holding my breath: it could be a long while yet.

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