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Obama nominates former US attorney as SEC chairwoman

Mary Joe White spoke as President Barack Obama listened in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, after he announced that he will nominate her to lead the Security and Exchange Commission.

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Mary Joe White spoke as President Barack Obama listened in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, after he announced that he will nominate her to lead the Security and Exchange Commission.

President Obama announced Thursday his nomination of Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor turned white-collar defense lawyer, to be the next chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In a short ceremony at the White House, Obama also said he was renominating Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a post Cordray has held under a temporary recess appointment without Senate approval for the past year. The president portrayed both selections as a way of preventing a financial crash like the one he inherited four years ago.

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‘‘It’s not enough to change the law,’’ Obama said. ‘‘We also need cops on the beat to enforce the law.’’

Obama noted that White was a childhood fan of ‘‘The Hardy Boys,’’ just as he was. He added that as the US attorney in New York in the 1990s she ‘‘built a career the Hardy Boys could only dream of.’’

He noted that she prosecuted money launderers, mobsters, and terrorists. ‘‘I’d say that’s a pretty good run,’’ he said. ‘‘You don’t want to mess with Mary Jo. As one former SEC chairman said, Mary Jo does not intimidate easily.’’

Obama likewise pressed the Senate to finally confirm Cordray to the leadership of the consumer agency created by the Wall Street regulation law passed in 2010. The president installed Cordray as director last January without Senate approval using his recess appointment power, but his term will expire at the end of the year unless he wins approval from the upper chamber of Congress.

‘‘Financial institutions have plenty of lobbyists looking out for their interests,’’ Obama said. ‘‘The American people need Richard to keep standing up for them. And there’s absolutely no excuse for the Senate to wait any longer to confirm him.’’

MARY JO WHITE

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Regulatory chiefs are often market experts or academics. But White spent nearly a decade as the US attorney in New York, the first woman named to this post. Among her prominent cases, she oversaw the prosecution of John Gotti, the mafia boss, as well as the people responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. She is now working the other side, defending Wall Street firms and executives as a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton.

As the attorney general of Ohio, Cordray made a name for himself suing Wall Street companies in the wake of the financial crisis. He undertook a series of prominent lawsuits against big names in the finance world, including Bank of America and American International Group.

The nominations could face a mixed reception in Congress. Republicans had previously vowed to block any candidate for the consumer bureau, leading to the recess appointment.

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