With liberal Democrats leading the charge against the pick, a Wall Street banker chosen by President Obama to serve in a top spot at Treasury has withdrawn from consideration, citing the “distraction” his Senate confirmation hearing would cause, White House officials said Monday.
Antonio Weiss, the White House’s choice to serve as undersecretary for domestic finance, informed the president over the weekend. His decision to withdrawal was first reported by Politico Monday afternoon.
Mr. Weiss’s nomination sparked a fierce backlash from Mr. Obama’s own political base, progressives — led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat — who argued the former Lazard investment banker was too close to Wall Street and would have been yet another voice for the rich and powerful in Washington and at the highest levels of the Democratic administration.
Instead of seeking the undersecretary for domestic finance position, Mr. Weiss will serve as counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, a position that does not require Senate confirmation and one that will allow the White House to avoid a potentially embarrassing confirmation battle.
“Mr. Weiss made the request to avoid the distraction of the lengthy confirmation process that his renomination would likely entail,” a White House spokesman said in a statement. “We continue to believe that Mr. Weiss is an extremely well-qualified individual, who is committed to the policy goals of this administration and firmly supports the administration’s policies on fostering economic growth and supporting our middle class.”
The White House believes that Mrs. Warren and other Democrats, along with leading liberal organizations, have been unfair in their criticism of Mr. Weiss.
SEE ALSO: Elizabeth Warren, liberals pick fight with Obama over Treasury nominee Antonio Weiss
“We strongly believe that the opposition to his nomination was not justified, and we are confident that he will prove himself to be a dedicated, talented, and effective public servant,” the White House spokesperson said.
Mr. Lew also expressed regret for the withdrawal.
“I am disappointed that Antonio will not have the opportunity to serve as undersecretary, but I understand his request not to be renominated,” Mr. Lew said in a statement. “I continue to believe that the opposition to his nomination was not justified.”
But Mrs. Warren, emerging as a leading spokeswoman for the Democratic liberal wing, said Mr. Weiss’s own record argued against him, including his role in the “inversion” merger deal under which U.S. fast food giant Burger King bought Canada’s Tim Horton’s chain and then moved its headquarters north of the border. Many liberals think the Obama administration has not been tough enough on the financial world in the aftermath of the global meltdown that brought on the 2008 Great Recession.
“The over-representation 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 Weiss nomination was first announced. “It tells people that whatever goes wrong in this economy, the Wall Street banks will be protected first.”
The Massachusetts freshman senator was not alone in the fight, with several other Senate Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Al Franken of Minnesota, all on record against the nomination. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate caucus, also came out against the nomination, reportedly the first Obama nomination Mr. Durbin has opposed.
Vermont independent Sen. Bernard Sanders, a liberal who caucuses with Democrats and another opponent of the nomination, said Monday, “I have no personal animosity toward Mr. Weiss but I am very glad he withdrew his nomination.”
As undersecretary, Mr. Weiss would have served as a key liaison between the Treasury Department and Wall Street investors and helped oversee the management of the country’s finances.