Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) made clear on Tuesday that she is not swayed by supporters of Obama administration nominee for Treasury undersecretary for domestic policy Antonio Weiss. Warren upped the ante in the unusually heated nomination fight, even mocking his defenders who point out that he supports “poetry.”
Warren has previously criticized Weiss, a Lazard investment banker, as an unacceptable nominee for the treasury spot, despite the fact that he’s a staunch Democrat who has argued for higher taxes on the rich and donated significant sums to the party.
Warren, in her speech at an event hosted by the Economic Policy Institute, the Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform, ticked off the most common points defenders of Weiss have made about his nomination.
“He spent the last 20 years at the investment bank Lazard and has been named to be under secretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department. He is focused on international corporate mergers — companies buying and selling each other,” Warren said. “Now, it may be interesting, challenging, but it does not sufficiently qualify him to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury Department.”
One of the biggest responses to Warren’s opposition to Weiss is that the often mentioned Burger King merger with Tim Horton’s was not a tax inversion. Color Warren unconvinced.
“In addition to his lack of basic qualifications, Mr. Weiss was part of the Burger King inversion deal that moved the U.S. company to Canada as part of a merger that would cut down on its tax obligations,” Warren said.
Weiss’s nomination contradicts the Obama administration’s opposition to bringing in personnel who won’t have conflicts of interest with Wall Street, Warren said.
“Now, this matters because at the end of the day the administration undercuts its own opposition to this practice by nominating someone who was involved in a high profile, cross boarder inversion and who, by the way, made $15 million in the last few years, working for Lazard, a firm that did three of the four major announced inversions,” Warren said “And by the way, Lazard isn’t an American company anymore either. It already moved to Bermuda to cut its taxes.”
Recent profiles of Weiss, oddly, have included the fact that he’s been involved in publishing the Paris Review in ticking off his Democratic bona fides. That wasn’t lost on Warren.
“Third, and maybe you can help me understand this argument, people say opposition to Weiss is unreasonable because, wait for it, he likes poetry,” Warren said. “I’m actually not kidding on this one. Supposedly because he helps publish a literary magazine called the Paris Review we should trust that he will zealously pursue financial reform. Now I confess, I don’t read many literary magazines but, really?”
In leaving Lazard, Warren noted that Weiss would receive a golden parachute of about $20 million.
“For me, this is just one spin of the revolving door too many. Enough is enough,” Warren said. “The response to these concerns has been, let’s say, loud. First his supporters say ‘come on, he’s an investment banker so of course he should be qualified to oversee complicated financial work at treasury. But his defenders haven’t shown his actual experience that qualifies him for this job at treasury.”
One of the more substantive arguments against Warren’s opposition to Weiss is that he’s as good as could possibly be gotten in a nominee for a top treasury position. Warren said she has supported qualified people with ties to Wall Street but that’s not what Weiss is.
“Look, when I set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau I interviewed, I hired, and I worked alongside many people with Wall Street experience and I was glad to do so. In the Senate I have voted for plenty of nominees with Wall Street experience,” Warren said. “But we need a balance. Not everyone who swoops in through the revolving door should be offered a top job without some serious examinations. Qualifications matter and Weiss doesn’t have them.”