Unholy Alliances: Will The Tea Party Join Sen. Warren’s Treasury Crusade?

AP

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) all-out push to defeat the Obama administration’s nominee for undersecretary of the Treasury for domestic policy has caused fissures among both Republicans and Democrats.

For Democrats, it’s brought a spotlight onto the liberal-versus-moderate divide within the Democratic party, much like the “Wall Street giveaways” in the CRomnibus spending bill did. Meanwhile, it’s forcing Republicans to decide whether to support an Obama nominee or spurn him and give Warren, who’s been flexing her liberal muscles lately, a victory.

Besides Warren, five Democrats plus Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have shown opposition to Weiss. Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) have expressed support for him. That, as Bloomberg Politics noted, is key. Weiss, whose background includes helping to craft arguments for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, will need the favor of Republicans to get confirmed in the newly GOP-controlled Congress.

“I’m keeping an open mind on it. I’m willing to look at his qualifications. He’s obviously somebody who has a lot of experience in the private sector and certainly comes with a number of qualifications but I want to have a chance to take a closer look at it,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which will consider Weiss’s nomination, told TPM. The committee is likely to vet Weiss in the new year.

Thune and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) have both suggested, at least an openness to voting for Weiss. But they haven’t decided whether they will support him or not.

“He seems like he would be a good fit for the job,” Portman told Bloomberg. “He’s got experience that you think the Treasury Department would want to have.”

Not every Republican agrees or is moving in that direction.

“I haven’t made up my mind but if I had to tell you how I’m leaning it would be I’m leaning ‘no,'” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told TPM. “I think the issue of dealing with the domestic finances that he does for the Treasury Department ought to be done by someone that’s more removed from Wall Street.”

Most senators though, even on the Finance Committee, have thus far refrained from giving an opinion on Weiss.

The problem, Thune said, is that even though Weiss is a Democratic dream pick for many, the Obama administration could trot out somebody more unpalatable to Republicans. TPM asked Thune if this wasn’t just an opportunity to take advantage of internal party divides and notch a win.

“Well yeah, I mean but it is an important position that eventually we’ve gotta have someone in,” Thune said. “We’re gonna get an Obama nominee and a lot of us think perhaps this could be better than some of the others they put forward but I think the main problem they have now is they’ve got Democrats fighting Democrats on this one.”

Weiss’s nomination has gotten more attention than an undersecretary of the Treasury for domestic policy, the number three position at Treasury, usually gets. Warren has used her position as the favorite senator of liberals to call attention to the nomination fight and turn it into a high profile skirmish over keeping Wall Street influence from seeping too deep into the federal government.

“I don’t think you can separate it from the vote yesterday on the spending resolution,” Professor Cornelius Hurley, the director of Boston University’s Center for Finance, Law & Policy told TPM on Saturday, told TPM, referring to Warren’s push to remove a provision in a spending bill that would have rolled back parts of Dodd-Frank.

“In other words I think that not just for the liberal Democrats but for many moderate Democrats — and I’m one of them I guess — this nomination, combined with Obama’s backtracking on Dodd-Frank represents the administration’s total capitulation to the largest banks on the most important issue of the day which is whether they should be restructured,” Hurley said.

The alliance of supporters could also get even more unusual if tea party
aligned senators joined Warren. Hurley pointed out that that’s possible
since the tea party started out as a protest against big government and
Wall Street.

The Obama administration has also defended Weiss’s qualifications. White House press secretary Josh Earnest called him “highly qualified.” Last week four former undersecretaries for the Treasury authored a letter to Hatch and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the chairman of the Finance Committee, in support of Weiss. The administration reportedly plans to start setting up individual meetings between Weiss and the Finance Committee.

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