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The case against nominating Elizabeth Warren

By Ezra Klein,

Joshua Roberts Bloomberg There’s a fair amount of disappointment over the White House’s decision to formally nominate Richard Cordray rather than Elizabeth Warren to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Paul Krugman, for instance, writes that “Obama has passed up a chance to symbolically align himself with the public and against the banksters. Sad.”

I don’t really understand this. Whoever is nominated to lead the CFPB is going to spend the next year of his life being filibustered by Republicans. The very best he can hope for is a recess appointment, in which case his tenure in the position would be relatively swift. So the question isn’t who you want leading the CFPB for the foreseeable future. It’s who you want spending his or her time being stopped from leading the CFPB for the foreseeable future. And it’s not clear that the answer to that question is “Elizabeth Warren.”

Warren, after all, has another option that she appears to be taking seriously: challenging Scott Brown in the 2012 election. For reasons I’ve outlined here and Bob Kuttner elaborates on here, there’s reason to think she would be a very effective candidate. But if she wants to do that, she can’t spend the next year being blocked from leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She has to spend at least part of it preparing for her candidacy.

Now, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Warren would prefer to lead the agency she’s built than launch a Senate campaign that may or may not succeed. But launching a Senate campaign that may or may not succeed seems like a clearly more effective way to protect her agency and further her ideas than being blocked from leading the agency she’s built.

Meanwhile, Richard Cordray is actually in a very good position to spend the next year or two being blocked from running the CFPB. Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general with a great reputation in consumer-protection circles and Warren’s blessing, doesn’t have anything to run for until Ohio’s governorship opens in 2014. By all accounts, he’s a good choice to lead the agency now, if he can somehow get past the Republicans, and spending a few years publicly fighting to protect consumers is unlikely to hurt him back home.

All of this could end up collapsing in on itself, of course. Warren might just go back to Harvard, or she might lose to Brown. Cordray might be blocked from the position and Obama might never go for a recess appointment. But given the information we have now, it seems like a fairly smart way to deploy the talents and preserve the future options of the various consumer protectors whom Republicans plan to filibuster.

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