- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

President Obama is considering bypassing the Senate and naming a temporary director to run his new consumer protection agency, the White House said Tuesday.

That could be a particularly attractive option if Mr. Obama appoints Harvard scholar Elizabeth Warren, the well-known yet polarizing consumer advocate. Mrs. Warren is considered the leading candidate to head the bureau, but her unpopularity with the financial industry - and with some lawmakers on Capitol Hill - could lead to contentious confirmation hearings in the Senate.

The financial regulatory law Mr. Obama signed into law earlier permits the Treasury Department to run the bureau while the director’s Senate confirmation is pending. Mrs. Warren - or any nominee - could serve as its interim head while under the supervision of the Treasury Department.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Tuesday that was “certainly an option that the president is considering.”

Mr. Burton said Mr. Obama would make an announcement on the post “very soon.”

Some lawmakers and advocacy groups are concerned that using an interim appointment to evade Senate hearings could cause problems for the agency and its head.

“In these tough pre-election times, an ‘interim’ appointment has a lot of the feeling of a recess appointment and so inevitably, let’s just say there wouldn’t be a honeymoon,” said Judy Kennedy, president and chief executive of the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders. “It would be a very contentious start.”

The Reuters news agency reported Tuesday afternoon that Senate banking committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd indicated he would not support the idea of a recess appointment for Mrs. Warren.

The Connecticut Democrat, who has spoken favorably of Mrs. Warren’s credentials but warned of a difficult confirmation process, told reporters that he has not been contacted by the White House regarding the potential nomination.

A recess appointment is another option available to Mr. Obama, a constitutional process allowing him to appoint a director when the Senate is out of session.

Ms. Kennedy said that if administration officials were to make an interim appointment, they should pick someone who’s already gone through Senate confirmation for some other post.

The consumer protection agency will have the power to enforce regulations covering mortgages, credit cards and other financial products. Mrs. Warren, a strong proponent of the agency who currently heads the Congressional Oversight Panel that has been a watchdog over the Treasury Department’s bank bailout fund, has long been considered the front-runner to head the agency.

Last month, she met with senior administration officials to discuss the role and had a White House meeting with the president last week.

On Friday, Mr. Obama praised Mrs. Warren as a “dear friend” who has been “a tremendous advocate” for the establishment of a consumer protection bureau.

Others mentioned as contenders to lead the consumer agency are Michael Barr, an assistant treasury secretary who was a key architect of the administration’s financial regulatory plans, and Eugene Kimmelman, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s antitrust division.