Feature

Is Warren too divisive to lead?

Warren's combative style has alienated so many members of Congress that her confirmation as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is in jeopardy.

If deference to Congress is a prerequisite to be the first head of the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Elizabeth Warren is doomed, said Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times. The Harvard professor turned consumer advocate galvanized a House committee hearing room last week when she “upended the natural order of things by telling a congressman that his time to question her had run out.” When Patrick McHenry, a subcommittee chairman who had already accused Warren of lying, tried to make her stay longer, she said, “Congressman, you are causing problems.” The “breach of decorum” left old hands dumbfounded. “She actually said that?” marveled “lobbyist and Washington éminence grise” Tom Korologos. But the liberals who make up her core support group were thrilled. “She stood up to a bunch of bullies on the dais,” said Democratic adviser Jim Manley. “I say, ‘More power to her.’”

The “verbal sparring match” was just the latest round in the battle over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said Joseph Williams in Politico.com. Ever since last year’s financial reform legislation created the agency to protect consumers against lending abuses, Republicans have tried to strip it of enforcement muscle, funding, and now, leadership. They vow to block the appointment of Warren, the chief architect of the CFPB, as the agency’s permanent head unless President Obama severely curtails its power. Liberal pressure groups, meanwhile, have “challenged Obama and Democratic lawmakers to fight for her with all the weapons in their political arsenal.” It’s a fight they can’t win, said William Cohan in Bloomberg.com. Warren “has made herself so bloody disagreeable on Capitol Hill that she has obliterated her chance” of winning confirmation. Last week’s row was a perfect illustration of her combative style, which has alienated many members of Congress. Some Democratic officials want her to run for Senate next year against Scott Brown. For the sake of consumers, who need an effective ally to protect them, she should heed that call.

It would be a terrible sign of weakness for Obama to succumb to “legislative blackmail,” said Jonathan Alter, also in Bloomberg.com. Warren knows all the “tricks and traps” that bankers use to “hornswoggle consumers,” and she’ll fight for “the hard-hit middle class.” That’s precisely why Republicans hate her, said Loren Steffy in the Houston Chronicle. “Fees and other gimmicks now account for a greater slice of big bank profits,” and as head of the CFPB, Warren would shine a bright light on each levy. Fearful that Warren will expose the subterfuges and deceptions that pass for banking these days, the banks have resorted to “name-calling.” She might be the only Washington bureaucrat they fear.

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