News strikes today that Harvard law Professor Elizabeth Warren will, indeed, will be tapped to help set up the newly authorized Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). We heard rumors of this on Monday, which the White House quickly defused -- only to validate the rumor a few days later. She won't be formally nominated as head of the CFPB, because the White House wants to avoid a confirmation fight in the Senate. Instead, she will just be appointed as a special advisor to the Treasury, which means she'll effectively lead the creation of the new consumer watchdog. This is a strange strategy.
Mixed Signals at the White House?
First, why did the White House dispel the rumor we all now know was accurate? On Monday, Meredith Shiner at Politico reported on theory that Warren would be appointed to the interim role but said White House officials indicated the contrary:
But a White House spokesman strongly denied that Obama would use the provision to circumvent a confirmation vote on Warren. "It's nothing," the White House spokesman said. "The president will have more to say about that agency soon."
Obviously, that's exactly what's happening. Today we have Brady Dennis of the Washington Post reporting:
President Obama this week plans to name Harvard law Professor Elizabeth Warren as a special adviser so that she can oversee a new consumer financial protection bureau while avoiding a potentially vicious Senate confirmation fight, according to people with direct knowledge of the decision.
The naïve view might be that Politico's sources simply weren't very good ones. But any reporter who has dealt with the Treasury knows that its spokespeople don't like to be quoted by name pretty much ever. So this was likely someone who was authorized to speak on the issue and was even told to kill the rumor. But if this was the President's plan, why not just respond by saying something like: "The Treasury doesn't comment on rumors. The process to determine the new CFPB head is ongoing." Isn't omission better than misleading the public?