Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama: Fighting Pragmatists

For all the whining on the Naderite Left about how the non-appointment of Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau represents Yet Another CopoutTM by President Obama (never mind that the actual nominee, Richard Cordray was hand-picked by Warren herself and scares the banks as much as she does), Professor Warren herself has put a cork in that notion. Appearing on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC last night, she delivered an impassioned defense of the President and of the agency.

Here is Warren's clear answer to those accusing the President of backing away from a fight because of Wall Street pressure.
Professor Warren: I really think we all have to remember this: We would not have a consumer agency if not for President Obama. Two years ago, right about now, he looked out, and he said, "The consumer agency, that's what I want to put in financial regulatory reform." Over the next year while everybody fought back and forth over the regulatory reform bill, there were a lot of offers on the table to get something else if you kill the consumer agency, or if you'd weaken it. He consistently said no. And a year ago right now, this week, he signed into law a bill that made this consumer agency exist and as strong and independent way.
What? President Obama knows how to fight? He rejected offers to kill the agency and insisted on it instead? He refused to compromise on this principle of protecting consumers, against all odds and all the lobbying dollars Wall Street was pouring in (and is still pouring in) to weaken or kill the agency? Oh no no no, don't say that! It makes the entire Professional Left crybaby argument fall apart like a house of cards!

Prof. Warren also had some fightin' words for the Republicans who are trying to knee-cap this agency before it is able to even start operations:
Professor Warren: Now, since then, what's happened is there are folks on capitol hill, Republicans in the senate and the house, they voted against the bill to begin with -- against the agency to begin with, they've introduced bills to try to cut our funding, introduced bills to try to make us less independent, introduced bills so we have a gummed up structure so we can't get anything done and bills to flat out repeal us. I want to be clear, the reason I cannot run this agency is because of those people. They've made it perfectly clear they will not let the agency go forward if I'm there, fine. I can step away from this. What I care about is this agency. The President has now made his nomination. He's a good man, Richard Cordray is, and I think it's time to take the fight straight to the Republicans. We need a director in place, that's the law, and we are not, not, not going to let the minority come in and dictate the terms of this agency, rip its arms and legs off before it's able to help a single family.
Indeed, in her White House blog post yesterday, Prof. Warren pointed out that the President is not giving an inch in the fight to keep the agency independent and out of the hands of the political appropriations process. He has issued a veto threat against any weakening of the powers of the agency. If political realities prevented Elizabeth Warren from being nominated to head the agency that is her brainchild, they have not prevented her from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the President to protect the implementation of the most progressive consumer protection idea in generations. To Warren, that is what matters most.

Professor Warren is a person of amazing abilities, grit, tenacity, and focus. She has always known that this was not about her - and she worked alongside the President for the cause. Funny, like a lot of us on the sane side of the Left blogosphere, Elizabeth Warren seems to understand legislative and political realities, knows full well that it is the Republicans that are the reason that she cannot run the agency, and knows that the real fight is about the agency, its functions and its future.

Hang on a minute. Elizabeth Warren just spoke pretty clearly about political realities and gave that legitimacy on what has happened with the nomination. Uh oh. Does this mean that she is a pragmatic progressive? OMG! Nooooo! Stop the presses!

And I suspect she also knows what the President knows: if she were nominated, Republicans would be able to make her the lightening rod and the issue, rather than the merits of the agency. By sacrificing her own nomination, Warren and Obama have taken that away from the Republicans, and they have already succeeded in focusing the conversation on the agency rather than the nominee. While the media has focused on how dropping Warren as a nominee did not in any way end the fight - and of course it did not - they missed the ground in that fight shifting to focus on what the President, Professor Warren, and progressives want it to focus on: the agency. They missed that shifting of the ground even as they reported on it. Watch how the Republicans are doing that job for us:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said GOP senators "still aren't interested in approving anyone to the position until the president agrees to make this massive new government bureaucracy more accountable and transparent to the American people."

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the banking committee, said that, for months, Obama "has ignored Republican concerns about the lack of accountability" at the new agency "and its potential adverse effect on the economy." Shelby insisted that until the White House "addresses our concerns by supporting a few reasonable structural changes, we will not confirm anyone to lead it."

In May, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and 43 other Senate Republicans vowed to filibuster any nominee for director unless Obama agreed to major revisions. In particular, Republicans want a board to supervise the agency rather than a single director, and they insist Congress have the power to appropriate the annual budget for the agency.
Not only have the President and Warren vowed to fight the Republican undermining of the agency, that is exactly what they want the debate to be about! The Republican words, while pretty strong and negative, there are two things about them: (a) they tried this same exact frame last year and lost big time, and (b) they focused the fight on the merits of the agency, which Obama is aware of and wants. Because when the fight is about the agency, the President knows that we win.

The President remembers that in the midst of the GOP and the banking industry's toughest resistance, Financial Reform remained stunningly popular - overall and in detail. Republicans had the votes to block financial regulatory reform last year, and they did try to. But the more they tried to block it, the more popular it became and the more Democratic amendments to strengthen it even further kept getting passed. Finally, the Republicans gave up and let the bill pass.

Given that history, why shouldn't the President want the debate focused on the Bureau itself? He should, and he does. Had the President nominated Warren, the fight would have been about Warren. But the President wants the fight to be about the merits of the agency. And he laid out that trap for the Republicans, and just like the debt limit negotiations, they have started stepping in it wholesale. Now they are making it about the the agency and consumer protection itself.

And that is going to be a fight. We should welcome that fight. We need to win that fight. The President is prepared to use his veto pen in this fight, but we can make sure that he doesn't have to. Go to Senate.gov, find your senators and call. Go to House.gov, find your representative and call. And tell them you will not tolerate them screwing with consumer protection. Tell them to make sure that the CFPB remains independent, strong, and capable of fulfilling its mission to protect consumers. Because consumers don't just deserve a voice, we deserve the biggest one.

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