Mary Jo White confirmed as SEC chief

The Senate confirmed Mary Jo White on Monday to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, and she could be behind her desk at the agency as early as Tuesday.

Without fanfare, the Senate approved White by unanimous consent, signaling that because she had strong bipartisan support, an official vote count was not necessary. White must now sign presidential appointment papers and get officially sworn in before she can take the reins from the current SEC chief, Elisse B. Walter.

In an e-mail to SEC employees, Walter said a ceremonial swearing-in may take place at the agency’s Washington headquarters on Friday for the staff to attend.

White, a former federal prosecutor who has spent the past decade as a white-collar attorney in New York, dazzled lawmakers from both parties with her credentials. She sailed through her confirmation hearing with a 21 to 1 vote last month, despite previous concerns about her strong ties to Wall Street.

For about 14 years, White focused on white-collar defense work at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York. She then spent 12 years as a federal prosecutor in New York — where she made a name for herself putting terrorists behind bars — before returning to Debevoise in 2002.

While angst about White’s relationship with Wall Street created an immediate stir after President Obama nominated her, the buzz Monday focused on her regulatory agenda. Within hours of her confirmation, lawmakers were already pressing her to get moving on issues that top their wish lists.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said White had promised him that if confirmed she would consider reforming the credit rating agency industry, which contributed to the financial crisis.

“Ms. White has assured me that she will give this critical issue the attention it deserves,” Franken said in a statement. “. . . I do intend to hold her to that commitment.”

Around the same time, just blocks from the Senate, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) told a gathering of entrepreneurs and investors that he has spoken to White about pushing the SEC to move on a “crowdfunding” regulation that would allow start-ups to raise small sums of money from individual investors via the Internet.

“We’ve got to get the regulation out,” Warner said.

White is untested as a regulator, but she has daunting regulatory agenda ahead of her, including putting in place regulations required by the Dodd-Frank act and the more recent Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which includes the mandate for the crowdfunding rule and aims to help small, private firms raise money and grow.

“The SEC needs to get the rules right,” White said at her confirmation hearing. “But it also needs to get them done.”

Dina ElBoghdady covers housing policy for The Washington Post.
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