White House closing in on Consumer Bureau nomination

Rachel Rose Hartman
Tim Geithner greets Elizabeth Warren in June 2010.
Tim Geithner greets Elizabeth Warren in June 2010.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested Thursday that the president is poised to announce his pick to head the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. And beyond the White House briefing room, evidence continues to mount that Harvard Law's Elizabeth Warren is the administration's top choice for the position.

Gibbs told reporters at Thursday's White House briefing that an announcement is imminent.

"I don't anticipate …  in the next few days. But probably in the not too distant future," Gibbs said.

Gibbs repeated the White House position that Warren would be a "highly qualified candidate" to oversee the nation's consumer protection efforts. But when questioned about additional candidates under consideration, Gibbs added that Michael Barr, an assistant treasury secretary, is also in the mix.

Regardless, several signs in recent weeks point to Warren as the most likely nominee.

Last week, Warren suddenly dropped a teaching job at Harvard Law. "Professor Warren regrets that she will not be able to teach you this fall and we regret the last-minute change," Harvard emailed Warren's students the day before classes, according to the Washington Post.

And on Tuesday, Warren met with the president at the White House. Neither side publicly confirmed the subject of their meeting.

This year's financial overhaul bill directed the president to create a Consumer Protection Bureau to regulate mortgage lenders, credit card companies, banks and other financial institutions and to advocate for consumers. Warren is credited with coming up with the idea for the bureau and has extensive experience as a consumer advocate. She has drawn significant support from progressives, labor leaders and consumer advocates.

But the administration's appointee must be confirmed by the Senate -- and it's not clear whether Warren's support is broad enough to win the backing of that frequently deadlocked and ideologically diverse body.

Warren's critics say that she's too antagonistic to Wall Street for the financial industry to accept her as a good-faith regulator. And that, they argue, could further harm her ability to carry out the new agency's central mission of serving as a liaison between the industry's leaders and ordinary consumers.

There are also indications that Warren might not sit well as a nominee with the White House's other lead economic regulators. When she headed the congressional oversight panel monitoring the distribution of federal TARP funds, she took pointed issue with the policy calls of the White House and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Earlier this summer, reports suggested that Geithner strongly opposed the prospect of a Warren nomination, but Geithner has since announced support for Warren as a possible head of the agency.

(Photo of Geithner greeting Warren at a June hearing: AP/Alex Brandon)