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Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:00

The Woman Who Knew Too Much

Written by  Suzanna Andrews | Vanity Fair
The Woman Who Knew Too Much Photograph by Nigel Parry

Millions of Americans hoped President Obama would nominate Elizabeth Warren to head the consumer financial watchdog agency she had created. Instead, she was pushed aside. As Warren kicks off her run for Scott Brown’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, Suzanna Andrews charts the Harvard professor’s emergence as a champion of the beleaguered middle class, and her fight against a powerful alliance of bankers, lobbyists, and politicians.

On the afternoon of July 18, in remarks from the Rose Garden amid the bruising showdown with congressional Republicans over the debt ceiling, President Obama made what the White House billed as a simple “personnel announcement.” In a brief speech, the president announced that he was nominating Richard Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio, to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new government agency set up to protect consumers from abusive lending practices. In his remarks he described the agency, part of the massive 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, as creating “the strongest consumer protections in history,” set up “so ordinary people were dealt with fairly.” After which he turned to thank the woman standing to his right, Elizabeth Warren.

A Harvard law professor, one of the nation’s leading bankruptcy experts and consumer advocates, the 62-year-old Warren had come up with the idea for the agency in 2007. She had advised the Obama administration on its creation in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse and helped to push it through Congress. Warren had also spent the last 10 months working tirelessly to build the agency from scratch—hiring its staff of 500, including Richard Cordray, organizing its management structure, and getting the C.F.P.B. up and running for its opening on July 21.

As she crisscrossed the country, spreading the word about the C.F.P.B., Warren became a familiar face to many, especially to those who had seen her on television—on CNBC, Real Time with Bill Maher, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She had gained millions of supporters. With her passionate defense of America’s beleaguered middle class, under assault today from seemingly every direction, she had become like a modern-day Mr. Smith, giving voice to regular citizens astonished at the failure of Washington to protect Main Street—and what increasingly appeared to be its abandonment of middle-class America. By July, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.—speaking for its 12 million members—had called on Obama to name Warren to head the agency. So had scores of consumer groups. Eighty-nine Democrats in the House of Representatives had signed a letter, publicly urging him to choose Warren. Newspapers around the country editorialized on her behalf, as did hundreds of bloggers. By July 18, when Obama announced that he was passing Warren over, he did so after receiving petitions signed by several hundred thousand people and organizations urging him to appoint Warren as the country’s top consumer watchdog.

At the end of his remarks, Obama turned to Warren and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled gamely, though if there are kisses a woman can do without, this was one of them. A Judas kiss, some would say. But if so, the betrayal was not just of Elizabeth Warren. In his remarks, Obama would hint at what had happened to Warren, commenting that she had faced “very tough opposition” and had taken “a fair amount of heat.” He also alluded to the powerful forces arrayed against her, and against the C.F.P.B.—“the army of lobbyists and lawyers right now working to water down the protections and reforms that we’ve passed,” the corporations that pumped “tens of millions of dollars” into the fight, and “[their] allies in Congress.” But he was mincing his words. The fight against Warren and the C.F.P.B. was one of the most brutal Washington battles this year, up there with the debt-ceiling showdown and now the looming battle over the jobs bill—but part of the same war. Arrayed against Warren, and today against the very existence of the C.F.P.B., was the full force of what many, most notably Simon Johnson, the M.I.T. professor and former International Monetary Fund chief economist, have called the American financial oligarchy: Wall Street firms and banks supported mainly by Republican members of Congress, but also politicians on the other side of the aisle, along with members of Obama’s own inner circle.

Read complete article on Vanity Fair

Photograph by Nigel Parry

Read 5809 times Last modified on Monday, 02 January 2012 23:26
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