Obama Taps Wall Street Watchdog Warren as ‘Consumer Czar’

BY Terence Burlij  September 17, 2010 at 8:33 AM EST

Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren. File photo/Getty Images.

The Morning Lne

Labor unions and liberal grassroots organizations had made it clear to the White House that having Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren head up the new consumer protection agency created by the Wall Street reform law was a top priority.

Many in the White House wanted her, too, but didn’t want the expected rough and uncertain confirmation process it would take to get her there.

That’s why when President Obama steps into the Rose Garden at 1:30 p.m. EDT Friday with Warren at his side, he’ll appoint her as an assistant to the president and a special adviser to Treasury, where she’ll oversee the creation and implementation of the new agency. This position does not require Senate confirmation.

As the New York Times reports, this workaround is raising some eyebrows.

Politically, it would have been a risky move for the president not to appoint Warren in some capacity because of the backlash from the liberal activist base of the Democratic Party that would have ensued. Energizing the currently unenthusiastic Democratic base is Mission One for the White House over the course of the next 46 days. Passing over Warren for the job would have made that a much tougher mission to accomplish.

SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES IN A FISCAL ELECTION SEASON

As discontent with the federal government over fiscal matters such as spending and tax policy has grown more fervent this midterm election cycle — embodied most notably in the rise of the Tea Party movement — hot-button social issues like gay marriage and abortion, which for decades energized the conservative base, have in most cases fallen off the political radar.

That’s not to say that social issues have become an afterthought, as evidenced by the line-up of Republican heavyweights slated to address this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, which kicks off Friday in Washington, D.C.

The list of featured speakers Friday includes former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Romney plans to deliver this laugh line (he hopes), according to his prepared remarks:

“Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three–their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.”

The once (and likely future) presidential candidate also plans to highlight the economic argument against the Democrats in his remarks Friday.

“The White House tries to argue that their stimulus has helped. That’s a bit like saying that squirting water from a garden hose helps put out a forest fire. The question is not whether it helped a little, but rather, did it do the job, or do as well as it could have. And the answer is a resounding “no.” 8% predicted unemployment became 10%. Since the Obama stimulus was passed, 127,000 government jobs have been created, but more than 2.4 million private sector jobs have been lost.”

A late addition to Friday afternoon’s schedule, which is sure to draw considerable attention from summit attendees as well as the media, is Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who scored an insurgent victory over Rep. Mike Castle in the state’s Republican primary earlier this week.

On Saturday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will address the summit.

A quick glance at the list of speakers shows common ground certainly exists between the Tea Party and social conservative movements. O’Donnell received considerable financial support from the Tea Party Express in her primary bid. In July, Bachmann launched the congressional Tea Party Caucus. DeMint, meanwhile, has been a thorn in the side of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, having endorsed no fewer than six Tea Party insurgents who later went on to claim GOP nominations over candidates favored by the party establishment.

Connie Mackey, president of the FRC Action PAC, the legislative action arm of the Family Research Council, a co-sponsor of the summit, says there is a “direct correlation” between social and economic issues. “There isn’t a family in America that doesn’t feel a loss of freedom and a loss of control over their own dollars. So, those are very direct family issues,” said Mackey. Still, Mackey notes that “evergreen” topics always paramount to the Family Research Council, such as marriage and life issues, will be central themes to the weekend.

Beyond the speeches, all eyes will be on the summit’s unscientific and mostly meaningless 2012 straw poll. The result may help to shed a bit of light on which potential Republican presidential candidate is best positioned to capture the support of the most socially conservative voters.

Huckabee won last year’s straw poll with 28 percent of the vote, while Romney, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty all received roughly 12 percent support. Pence took fifth with 11 percent.

When it comes to the 2010 cycle, however, it is Democrats who are looking to use social issues to their advantage, painting some Republican candidates as “extreme.” With polls showing Republican voters more enthusiastic about voting this year, efforts by Democratic candidates to highlight social issues could rally the base enough to stave off huge losses come November.

In Kentucky, for instance, Democrats have gone after GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul for his refusal to say whether he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act. Paul later said he “overwhelmingly” agreed with the legislation’s intent, but his stumble and the ensuing uproar cost him in the polls.

Democrats have also targeted the Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, who said she believes abortion should be illegal, even in the cases of rape or incest. At the beginning of the cycle, Republicans made it clear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was one of the party’s top targets, but his campaign has been able to use Angle’s past statements against her to remain afloat in the polls.

Abortion has also been a point of contention in California’s Senate race, where Republican Carly Fiorina said in a recent debate that she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade “if there were an opportunity.” Her Democratic rival, Sen. Barbara Boxer, blasted that position. “What the people of California have to understand is that if my opponent’s views prevailed, women and doctors would be criminals. They would go to jail. And women would die like they did before Roe v. Wade,” said Boxer.

Some leading Republicans contend that the party needs to keep a laser-like focus on the economy because voters are not putting as much weight on social issues this year. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chair of the Republican Governors Association, said recently: “Any issue that takes people’s eye off unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts is taking their eye off the ball. That’s what the American people are concerned about.”

O’DONNELL OVERDRIVE

The day after Tea Party- and Sarah Palin-endorsed candidate Christine O’Donnell shocked the Delaware Republican Party by winning that state’s primary for the U.S. Senate, the Democratic Party acted swiftly to highlight a trove of research showing O’Donnell making questionable statements.

Citing items from the Washington Independent and Talking Points Memo, the DNC attempted to paint O’Donnell as “the new Republican mainstream.”

Talking Points Memo highlighted a 2007 O’Reilly Factor appearance in which O’Donnell warned that scientists grew mice with humans brains. (Scientists have not yet been able to accomplish that. It’s also not known if they want to.)

The Washington Independent highlighted her 1998 defense of a Southern Baptist conference resolution that wives should “submit graciously” to their husbands.

The anecdotes were just two of a slew of statements O’Donnell has made that Democrats hope to use to portray her as extreme and unelectable.

O’Donnell has also said that condoms do no protect people from AIDS and that she thinks the Bible prohibits masturbation.

An analysis by Nate Silver of the New York Times, using a predictive model he developed for political polling, shows that had her more moderate opponent Rep. Mike Castle won the primary, Republicans would have had a 94 percent chance of winning the Delaware Senate seat, while O’Donnell now has a six percent chance of winning.

According to the Associated Press, at the first O’Donnell vs. Coons debate in Delaware on Thursday night, O’Donnell acknowledged the onslaught from her opponents.

“It’s no secret that there’s been a rather unflattering portrait of me painted these days,” she said.

More from the AP on both candidates, who were eager to remain focused on the issues of the day:

“. . . at one point, midway, when the moderator read an audience question to O’Donnell about her views on government and private sexual behavior, someone in the audience shouted: ‘It’s personal!’ That drew a nod from O’Donnell.”

“‘Yes, I have my personal beliefs,’ said O’Donnell, who stepped into the public spotlight in the 1990s as a conservative activist speaking out against abortion, homosexuality and premarital sex.”

“For his part, Coons said Delaware residents are interested in what candidates will do to create jobs, reduce the national debt and fix what he called a broken political system in Washington.”

“‘I don’t they’re particularly interested in statements that either of us made 20 or 30 years ago,’ said Coons, who has been targeted by Republicans for an article he wrote for his college newspaper as a 21-year-old student that was entitled ‘Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist.’”

David Chalian contributed to this report.
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