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Elizabeth Warren and House Republicans clash bitterly over new consumer agency

May 24, 2011 |  1:32 pm

Warren oversight
House Republicans have been adamant since last year that they don't like the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- and it's also becoming apparent they don't like Elizabeth Warren, the Obama administration advisor who is helping launch the agency.

After a bitter and contentious House oversight subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Warren showed that the feeling might be mutual.

The clash highlighted how Warren has become a lightning rod for opponents of the agency, created by last year's financial reform law. And it also could explain why President Obama hasn't nominated her to be the agency's powerful full-time director despite strong support from congressional Democrats, consumer advocates and liberal interest groups.

Warren, a Harvard Law professor, is so beloved by liberals that some Democrats are encouraging her to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in her home state next year.

"In one respect, I congratulate you for instilling such fear … because they understand how effective you are about getting the message out to the American people," Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) told Warren, apologizing to her for what he called "the rude and disrespectful" questioning by some Republicans.

Warren and Republicans clashed often during the hearing, which followed approval by the House Financial Services Committee this month of legislation limiting the consumer bureau's power. . . .

The disputes started with allegations from subcommittee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) that she had misled Congress about her role in federal and state negotiations with large mortgage servicers to resolve investigations into botched foreclosure paperwork. McHenry said agency documents indicated she and other consumer bureau staffers were actively involved in the negotiations, not just advising other federal agencies as she had said at an earlier hearing.

Warren denied misleading lawmakers and said the agency was only providing advice.

McHenry also pressed her about whether she would accept an appointment from Obama to head the agency. Nearly all Senate Republicans have vowed to block any appointment to the director's position unless changes are made to reduce its power, leading to speculation that Obama will be forced to make a temporary recess appointment to fill the job.

Warren said only that the appointment was Obama's decision. Asked if she had provided advice on who should fill the job, she said, "I’ve tried to help the president in any way I can on the nomination process."

Warren and Republicans clashed often over whether the consumer bureau would have too much power. And Republicans were frustrated with Warren's often lengthy answers. After unsuccessfully trying to get her to say whether she believed consumers had an obligation to educate themselves about financial products, a frustrated Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said, "Mr. Chairman, I give up."

The sniping culminated with a sharp-edged dispute between McHenry and Warren about how long they had agreed she would testify.

Asked by McHenry to stay later than 2:15 p.m. -- an hour after the hearing started -- Warren complained that he had moved the hearing's start several times, including late Monday night via a late-night phone call to a consumer agency staffer. McHenry countered that he had never personally called anyone and that the agreement was merely a promise from the subcommittee's staff that they would try to accommodate her schedule.

"Congressman, we had an agreement," Warren said.

McHenry responded, "We had no agreement. You're making this up."

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) jumped to Warren's defense, saying she should be treated fairly and allowed to leave to get to previously scheduled meetings. McHenry agreed when Warren offered to answer written questions from two remaining lawmakers.

Cummings praised Warren and the work she was doing setting up the consumer bureau.

"There are people in my district who applaud what you are doing and may God bless you," Cummings said. "Stay on the battlefield."

RELATED:

Democrats pushing consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren to take on Scott Brown in 2012

House committee votes to limit power of new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Senate Republicans vow to block any appointee to head consumer protection bureau

Photo: Elizabeth Warren testifies before a House oversight subcommittee. Credit: Reuters

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