President Obama may be on the verge of a significant announcement -- the nomination of Elizabeth Warren to head the newly-formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is pure conjecture on my part, I have to admit right up front. But politically, it would indeed give the president a boost right when he needs it most, heading into the midterm election season.
Elizabeth Warren would be a logical choice for the job, and not only because the entire idea of a consumer financial protection agency was hers to begin with. She's got the credentials and is well-qualified to take the job on, should Obama appoint her. And politically, it would go a long way towards energizing the Democratic Party's base. Because she is the Left's favorite choice for the job, by a wide margin.
It would also set up a fight in the Senate that could help Obama and the Democrats as well, since the Senate must confirm whoever's nominated for the position. Republicans will oppose her, as they would oppose any one or any thing Obama proposed right now. By doing so, they will have to paint Warren as some sort of radical, whom they are bravely fighting against. There's only one problem with this. To paraphrase an old Republican aphorism: extremism in the defense of consumer protection is no vice. Once again, Republicans will be fighting on the side of Wall Street, and the Democrats will be fighting on the side of the consumer. Which is, to put it mildly, a fight that could benefit Democrats among the voting public at this point.
Wall Street, quite obviously, doesn't want a strong personality to get this new job. They'd prefer someone from their own lobbying ranks, if truth be told. But portraying Warren as out of touch with the Big Banks' interests is exactly what the job requires. Democrats could pound Republicans as being "on the side of the banks and Wall Street" in the debate, which is not exactly a popular place to be. Politically, it's easy to see Democrats gaining an advantage from the whole fight. And it's hard to see the political position of "she'd be too strong an advocate for consumers" as being anything but detrimental to the Republicans making this case. Too strong? Sounds pretty good to most consumers, I would bet.
Or, if Obama really wanted to be bold, he could name Warren as a "recess appointment" and bypass the Senate entirely. I doubt he'd do so tomorrow (Congress isn't in session until next week, so she could be named to the position tomorrow, if Obama chose), but he might hold out the threat of doing so if the Senate can't confirm her by their October campaign break. Of course, Republicans would howl, but they're going to do that no matter what happens, so it really shouldn't even be a consideration.
The whole debate would be worth having for two secondary reasons as well. The first is that it would draw voters' attention to the new position. This bureau was created by the financial reform law which passed Congress earlier this year. But the law was so complex that most of the public didn't even notice the debate when it happened. As a result, Democrats didn't get as much credit as they really should have for winning the legislative fight. But the nomination of Warren would put the subject right back at the center of the table. The media, after all, can hardly explain what the nomination fight is all about without including some form of: "...this position is a new one, created by the Wall Street reform that Democrats passed earlier this year." So even the fact that the nomination exists at all serves to spotlight Democrats' achievements.
The other secondary benefit to the appointment would be the "olive branch" it would represent to the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Obama (and his minions) have been pretty consistently using the Lefties as a rhetorical punching bag for quite some time now (yes, Rahm, I am looking in your effin' direction...). This would be a major signal from Obama that he realizes that this division has grown deep, and would represent Obama's willingness to bridge this gap and get the people who pounded the pavement to get him elected excited once again about the upcoming election. It certainly couldn't hurt. The Left has made no bones about their choice of Warren, and also what a disappointment it would be if Obama names anyone else to the new post.
Announcing Elizabeth Warren's nomination would also fit right in with the "subject of the week" from the White House -- the economy. It would be a good end to a very good week for the president, and show that he really means the lofty things he's been saying to the public all week long. It would also put the subject front and center in tomorrow's press conference, where President Obama could defend his choice (and the Left would even cheer him on if he slipped in the phrase "fierce advocate" at some point).
It could also regain some momentum for the president, with respect to Congress. Up until this point, Obama has mostly concentrated on Big Issues. Healthcare reform, Wall Street reform, the stimulus, and (the one that "got away") energy policy reform. He hasn't done so well with the smaller issues, at least not since the initial frenzy of legislating that immediately followed his inauguration. Back then, Obama was moving things so amazingly fast that his opponents were kept off-guard -- often failing to work up their high dudgeon at everything Obama was doing, because there was just too much of it coming down the pike simultaneously. It wasn't until healthcare began to dominate the discussion that Obama's opponents truly gained their footing.
Congress will only be back for about a month before they leave again to campaign until election day. Obama is already pushing several small-bore bills in Congress, and adding a nomination to the fray would help dilute the rage directed at each individual proposal. The economic and jobs and tax bills are just one part of a long list of subjects that will vie for attention in the next four weeks. The Senate, for instance, could pass the military appropriations bill, which (if they follow the House's lead) could end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" next year. That could be a battle royale. The Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires will also be a heavily-fought debate -- and one that must be dealt with before the end of the year.
Adding the nomination of Elizabeth Warren to this mix is the right thing to do right now. It would go a long way towards improving the "enthusiasm gap" between Democrats and Republicans right now, it would give Obama's base cause for hope that he takes their concerns seriously, it would be a great fight to have in the Senate right in the middle of campaign season, it would show that Obama is strongly supportive of the best possible consumer protections he can get, and it would put the Republicans into the position of opposing someone just because Wall Street told them to. All-around, a winner.
He could announce tomorrow that he's just going to recess appoint Warren, just to see Republicans' heads explode; or he could send it to the Senate in the normal fashion, and then go ahead and recess appoint her anyway if Republicans block her confirmation -- which would happen in October, right before the election. Either route he chooses, though, tomorrow seems to be the perfect time to make this announcement.
Speculation has been running rampant about Warren's possible appointment all summer. The tea leaves do indeed seem to indicate she might be changing jobs soon. She made the news recently because she just cancelled a university class she was supposed to teach this fall. And, just two days ago, she visited the White House again (after visiting weeks ago, when she presumably began the vetting process). Was it a final visit for the president to inform her she'd been chosen, and to lay the strategy for the public announcement? Could be, could be... but then again, all of this could be a misdirection. Guessing presidential nominations is a tough game with this White House, because so far they've been pretty good at not being totally obvious about such things and playing their cards pretty close to the chest.
What I'm trying to say is just a reiteration of where I began -- this is all the sheerest speculation on my part. I have no inside info on the subject. I'm merely guessing at the possible timing of a possible announcement.
But even with that enormous caveat, I have to say, tomorrow looks perfect for Obama to surprise everyone with Elizabeth Warren's nomination. Leading me to make my rash prediction -- that this is why Obama called a press conference right before Congress reconvenes, and that the Warren announcement will happen in the afternoon, to give the media time to prepare their questions about it for the later press conference. I could be wrong about all of this, but at this point I have to say I'm hoping I'm guessing right.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant