The Elizabeth Warren End-Around

Some questions on what Obama's conflict avoidance means

Well, surprise, surprise. President Obama ducks another fight by naming consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren as “special adviser” to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was her idea.

The coverage this morning is pretty muddy, but that’s not the press’s fault. So here are some questions that spring to mind:

— Who’s right? Will this split-the-baby appointment “sideline Liz” as David Weidner argues? Or will her “powers… be broad, despite her unusual title,” as The Wall Street Journal reports this morning? What does that mean for consumer regulation?

— Related: Will Warren be bigfooted by the Rubin Boys (Tim Geithner and Larry Summers) in the White House?

— Bonus question! Why are the Rubin Boys still in the White House?

— Why is it seen, at least inside the administration, as a good play politically to avoid a fight about how or whether to protect consumers—with the most eloquent advocate of such out front? Warren herself has different instincts. Remember this quote? “My first choice is a strong consumer agency. My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.” Does anybody think that Americans like to smell weakness in their presidents?

As Matt Yglesias says, “With Warren, Obama showing real innovation in developing odd, satisfying to nobody compromises.” See health-care, financial-reform, et al.

— Will this backdoor machination make it more or less likely that Warren eventually is nominated and makes it through Senate confirmation?

— How much more proof do we need that the filibuster is anti-democratic and should be done away with, like tomorrow? First, it takes a 60 percent supermajority to even allow a vote on Warren’s nomination. So, the administration, not unreasonably, says “screw democracy” and installs her to get around the law. Instead of sixty votes, the Senate gets no vote.

— How completely screwed up is that system?

— Which financial-services company will Chris Dodd lobby for come January?

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.