By Bill Press - 07/07/11 09:43 PM EDT
It’s hard to believe it was so long ago. But it was Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, when we White House reporters gathered in the Rose Garden to meet Elizabeth Warren, President Obama’s pick to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by Congress as part of its package of Wall Street reforms.
In many ways, what happened that September afternoon was classic Obama, trying to have it both ways. He praised Warren’s tenacity in fighting for consumers, calling her “one of the country’s fiercest advocates for the middle class.“ Yet, because of Republican opposition in the Senate, he only nominated her on a temporary basis — to help create the new agency, not to lead it.
The consumer protection bureau wouldn’t even exist, in fact, without Warren’s prodding and determination. A 62-year-old grandmother from Norman, Okla., she was plucked from her job as Harvard law professor in 2008 to head a congressional panel overseeing the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program started by former President George W. Bush and continued by President Obama.
One of the factors leading to the Wall Street collapse of September 2008, Warren argued, was that nobody was watching out for consumers to warn them about questionable investments and mortgages being marketed by financial institutions. A new consumer protection agency had to be part of any long-term solution, Warren convinced Republicans and Democrats in Congress, or else there would be “plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”
And thus, despite the fierce opposition of big banks, was born the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which now has more than 300 employees, hired by Warren, and is scheduled to assume independent responsibility from the Treasury Department for overseeing consumer affairs on July 21.
But here’s the biggest change since that Rose Garden appearance. Warren’s not only been busy on the inside, creating a new agency. She’s been busy on the outside, building support for the bureau — from her former enemies. She’s conferred with more than 70 members of Congress. She’s met with more than 1,000 banking, business and consumer representatives. She’s sat down with the CEO of every one of the country’s largest banks. She’s convinced them that a strong consumer protection agency will provide invaluable protection for consumers and bankers alike. After meeting her, Jamie Dimon, chairman of JP Morgan Chase, admitted: “We fully acknowledge that there were many good reasons that led to the creation of the CFPB.” Without compromising her consumer fighter credentials, Warren has won the support of industry leaders.
So the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is ready to roll. All it needs is a permanent director. Obama’s got the perfect leader in Elizabeth Warren. What’s he waiting for?
Press is host of the nationally syndicated “Bill Press Show.”