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White House: Obama considers interim consumer head

Julie Pace

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

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

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

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

Burton said 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."

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

Kennedy said that if the administration 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. Warren, 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, Obama praised 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.


Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

The Associated Press