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Consumer watchdog boss pushes ahead in interim role

President Barack Obama makes his way through the Colonnade with Elizabeth Warren to announce her appointment as assistant to the president. Months later, she took the lead as the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

By Jaclyn Giovis
Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Elizabeth Warren took the job as interim chief of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it wasn't her only offer.

"There were always two jobs on the table," Warren said, in an interview Thursday with Marketplace Morning Report Host Steve Chiotakis. (Listen for the full interview with the Harvard law professor on tomorrow's show, and on Marketplace.org.)

One offer, she said, was simply to be nominated to head the agency. That would have landed her directly in the political fray and delayed the agency's startup. Or, she said President Obama offered her the interim appointment to get the agency up and running.

"I said what I'd really like to do is start making it go right now."

Considered Warren's brainchild, the watchdog bureau is designed to help middle-class Americans avoid financial traps with credit cards, mortgages and other consumer products. The Wall Street financial reform bill passed last summer created the agency. The law sets up new regulations for banks, mortgage companies, and financial institutions.

Warren was thrown into Washington's political pit months before President Obama formally asked her to build the agency in September.

Democrats considered her a top candidate for the full-time job. But plenty of Republicans opposed the concept of the bureau -- calling it federal overreach -- and they started maneuvering to block her confirmation in the Senate.

Obama's decision to appoint Warren as an assistant to the President and special advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury, sidestepped the confirmation process and fueled the political debate. But she's been able to start working. "I haven't regretted the decision at all," she said.

Right now, Warren is meeting with CEOs of banking institutions to talk over new regulations and how they might affect their competitiveness. She also wants to make sure that credit card agreements are crystal clear to consumers. Mortgage lenders need to be more transparent about the fees and rates associated with their products so that consumers can shop around more easily, Warren said.

Does she want to head the agency permanently? Her answer skirted the question.

"I'm working 15 hour days right now and have so much on my plate I've got enough to keep my mind occupied without thinking about that issue."

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