- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2015

Upon returning from Hawaii this week, President Obama will confront a growing firestorm around a key Treasury nominee, with senators across the ideological spectrum seemingly ready to do battle with the White House in one of the first political fights of 2015.

The confirmation of Antonio Weiss — tapped by Mr. Obama to serve as Treasury’s undersecretary for domestic finance — is in doubt, as liberals such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, have taken direct aim at the former investment banker’s close ties to Wall Street.

The uproar highlights how some on the left, led by Mrs. Warren and also powerful progressive organizations outside Capitol Hill, now feel more emboldened to take on both the administration and so-called Wall Street Democrats.

They argue the administration must move to the left, particularly on financial matters, and needs to break associations the Democratic Party has with powerful banks and other financial institutions. Mrs. Warren has, for example, made the case that the federal government should pursue harsher regulations on Wall Street and should seek to break up large banks.

“The overrepresentation of Wall Street banks in senior government positions sends a bad message. It tells people that one — and only one — point of view will dominate economic policymaking,” Mrs. Warren wrote in the Huffington Post late last year after the White House put forward Mr. Weiss.

“It tells people that whatever goes wrong in this economy, the Wall Street banks will be protected first,” she continued. “That’s yet another advantage that Wall Street just doesn’t need.”

In recent weeks a number of other Democrats have voiced similar criticism, including Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota and even Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

“It is important to send the message that we will no longer allow Wall Street to exclusively make our fiscal policy decisions, especially when they affect so many on Main Street,” Mr. Manchin, one of the Democratic caucus’ more conservative members, said on the Senate floor last month.

Mrs. Warren, Mr. Manchin and other opponents have been joined by groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee — which has rallied liberals to oppose Mr. Weiss‘ nomination — and organizations such as the Independent Community Bankers of America, which argues the nominee would be yet another Wall Street voice in the federal government.

Despite the heavy, widespread criticism and real possibility that Mr. Weiss‘ nomination won’t clear the Senate this year, the White House has refused to give in.

Officials thus far have given no indication that the president is prepared to withdraw Mr. Weiss‘ nomination.

“This is somebody who has very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work, and that is critically important when you’re asking somebody to take on a position in the federal government that has such a significant bearing on those markets,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in December before the president left for Hawaii.

Mr. Weiss has a lot of experience, has knowledge that would be critically important to the successful conduct of the responsibilities of somebody who’s going to serve as the undersecretary of the Treasury for domestic finance. That’s why we’re counting on the Congress to take quick action and confirm him in bipartisan fashion,” he continued.

Former Treasury officials also have come to Mr. Weiss‘ defense, arguing his work history — including his tenure on Wall Street — makes him an ideal candidate.

Mr. Weiss has worked in the financial sector for more than two decades. For the past five years, he has served as the global head of investment banking at Lazard, a leading financial and investing banking firm.

While Mrs. Warren and others believe Mr. Weiss is too close to Wall Street to regulate it, supporters say his firsthand experience in the financial sector leading up to, during and after the crash of 2008 give him the proper perspective.

“We know that the memory of the financial crisis is fresh in his mind, as Lazard helped companies and multiple governments navigate the crisis on both sides of the Atlantic,” four former undersecretaries for domestic finance — including Robert K. Steel and Randal K. Quarles, who served under former President George W. Bush — wrote in a letter to congressional leaders on Dec. 11.

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