The Senate on Monday unanimously confirmed President Obama’s appointment of Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, even as Republicans continue to reject Richard Cordray, who was nominated at the same time to head another financial watchdog agency.
At a time when Democrats and Republicans disagree on most issues, the parties came together in support of Mrs. White.
The former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who earned widespread respect for prosecuting mob bosses and the terrorists responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center attack, will take the reins of the agency that oversees Wall Street just months after former SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro resigned. Commissioner Elisse Walter had been serving as acting chairwoman since November.
Mrs. White is expected to double down on implementing financial rules from the Jobs Act and the Dodd-Frank Act.
“The reason why people are supporting her is because she has a good reputation as a tough federal prosecutor,” said Bankrate.com Washington Bureau Chief Mark Hamrick. “She was widely regarded as very strong in law enforcement, and it’s thought that there needs to be a tough cop on the beat in policing Wall Street. The mandate is seen as leveraging her ‘tough-as-nails’ reputation on Wall Street.”
Mrs. White, 65, enjoyed wide bipartisan support throughout the nomination process, though Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, remains one of her few and most vocal critics in the Senate. After being appointed by President Obama in January, she breezed through a hearing with the Senate Banking Committee on March 12 and was approved by the committee in a 21-1 vote a week later.
On Monday, the Senate confirmed Mrs. White in what was officially called an unanimous voice vote, though Mr. Brown voted against her in committee.
Mr. Brown has expressed concerns that Mrs. White will go easy on Wall Street because of the time she spent defending top bankers most recently as a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York — a job that she took after a decade of serving as a federal prosecutor in New York.
“I don’t question Mary Jo White’s integrity or skill as an attorney,” Mr. Brown said in a statement in March. “But I do question Washington’s long-held bias towards Wall Street and its inability to find watchdogs outside of the very industry that they are meant to police. Mary Jo White will have plenty of opportunities to prove me wrong.”
In response to these concerns, Mrs. White has promised to take an aggressive approach, knowing that her reputation is on the line.
“She knows that her credibility is at stake, if she doesn’t act aggressively in this job, and she certainly pledged to be aggressive,” Mr. Hamrick said.
But reforming Wall Street won’t be an easy job.
“Unfortunately, in the financial markets, the regulators are often outmanned and even outsmarted,” Mr. Hamrick said.
Mrs. White’s speedy nomination was a stark contrast from Mr. Cordray’s, whose second nomination for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is still in question. In a controversial move, Mr. Obama gave a recess appointment to Mr. Cordray in January 2012, after Republicans threatened to filibuster his first nomination. Mr. Obama renominated him early this year along with Mrs. White, but Republicans continue to oppose it.
Republicans say they are not opposed to Mr. Cordray, but they object to the structure of the CFPB, which calls for a single leader, rather than a board of directors, and they won’t vote for him until their concerns are addressed.
“So now everybody’s wondering just how will the Cordray nomination play out, and right now, there’s no sign that the Republicans are willing to give up the fight on that one,” Mr. Hamrick said.