Working with Elizabeth Warren is no walk in the park, critics say

Amanda Carey Contributor
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News of Elizabeth Warren’s decision not to return to classes this fall at Harvard Law School has sparked renewed speculation that President Obama will nominate the law professor to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

An e-mail obtained last week from the dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minnow, told students, “I’m writing to let you know that Professor Jerry Frug will be teaching your Contracts class this term instead of Professor Elizabeth Warren. Professor Warren regrets that she will not be able to teach you this fall and we regret the last minute change.”

Warren was scheduled to teach contracts to first-year law students this semester. Apparently her plans have changed.

But while the general consensus seems to be that Warren will get the chance to head the consumer-centered agency she claims to have come up with, it has not gone unnoticed that the Obama administration appears to be dragging its feet on her nomination.

“The obvious explanation is that this is very controversial,” Todd Zywicki, contracts and bankruptcy law professor at George Mason University, told The Daily Caller. “But there are also two less obvious reasons that are being battled out behind the scenes.”

For one, the fact that Warren is an academic could account for the slow process. “She has huge volumes of published work, which takes longer to vet,” said Zywicki. “There are plenty of things that could be interpreted as land mines.”

Secondly, Warren’s impressive resume may hamper her nomination as well.  She has taught law at a string of universities, including Rutgers University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan. And in the 1990s, she was a member of the National Bankruptcy Review Commission.

“[She] has gotten major criticism in the way she’s carried out her duties,” said Zywicki. “There are serious concerns about her impartiality and that she uses these jobs as a platform for self promotion.”

A bankruptcy attorney who worked with Warren on the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, but did not want to be identified by name, told TheDC by phone that working with the professor was anything but easy.  He even recounted two examples to illustrate why.

At one point, an official in the Justice Department was invited to speak at a panel for the commission. The guest traveled across the country only to find out he had been disinvited at the last minute, and was never informed. The person behind the situation? Elizabeth Warren. “She just didn’t want him there,” Warren’s former colleague said.

On another occasion, while the commission was working on their report, Warren altered some already agreed-upon language, completely changing its meaning.

The source also pointed out that three commission members who objected to the writing process for the report wrote a dissent. The dissent listed several reasons for their displeasure, including the fact that draft versions “for the most part, were not given to the Commissioners for their review,” that Warren included “many interpretations and characterizations which often do not reflect the Commission’s work,” and the report failed to reflect the polarizing views and divide between the commission members.
Similar episodes have been characteristic of Warren’s tenure as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) for TARP. In December 2008, when COP released its first report, the lone Republican on the panel, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, was very critical of the process leading up to the report’s publication. Hensarling said he received the finished product only eight minutes before he was supposed to vote on it.

“Unless the majority is willing to empower members of that panel to have the right to call witnesses to receive documents as opposed to asking for her [Warren’s] good graces, it’s a sham and I won’t participate,” Hensarling said at the time. “I am not going to sit around and be the Republican window-dressing.”

Hensarling’s spokesperson also called the panel a “partisan PR circus by its chairwoman.”

“Have you ever seen a chair of a government oversight committee act the way she has the last two years?” asked Zywicki.

But as TheDC previously reported, Warren’s temperament and work ethic are not the only reasons some think her nomination deserves more than a little deliberation. Some of her scholarly credentials have come into question and those in the banking industry worry Warren doesn’t understand all the nuances of small banking.

As for the White House, they have thus far stayed tight-lipped about whether Warren will ultimately be their pick to run one of the biggest bureaucratic arms to come out of the financial reform bill. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, however, told reporters late Wednesday that a press briefing on the subject could be held within days.