WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to tap Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren to a special advisory role so she can help set up a new consumer financial protection bureau while avoiding a potentially bitter Senate confirmation fight, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing a senior administration official.
The appointment would place Warren, 61, in charge of the new watchdog agency she proposed three years ago to protect Americans against lending abuses.
The professor and consumer advocate was considered the leading candidate to head the agency, but her lack of support in the financial community could have set the stage for contentious Senate hearings that might have derailed her confirmation.
The administration official said Obama plans to name Warren as an adviser to him and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — giving her responsibility for shaping the consumer bureau in coming months.
The financial overhaul bill signed into law in July gives this consumer watchdog — and the person who leads it — broad autonomy to write and enforce rules governing credit cards, mortgages and other such loans.
Under the law, the Treasury maintains responsibility for setting up the new regulator until the president nominates a director, subject to Senate approval.
By appointing Warren to a post within the administration — much as the White House did with the "car czar" Steven Rattner and "compensation czar" Kenneth Feinberg — Obama would free her to act as the bureau's director almost immediately while avoiding a confirmation battle. A White House appointment that bypasses the Senate risks infuriating lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who shepherded the financial legislation through the chamber, told reporters this week that such a move could jeopardize the credibility of the fledgling bureau. Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Scott Brown, R-Mass., who each represent a swing vote in any confirmation battle, have urged that any nominee face Senate scrutiny.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.