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SEC nominee promises strict enforcement

WASHINGTON — Mary Jo White vowed Tuesday to make ‘‘bold and unrelenting’’ enforcement of Wall Street rules a high priority if she is confirmed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The former federal prosecutor told a Senate panel that investors need to know the playing field is level and that wrongdoers will be ‘‘aggressively and successfully’’ pursued.

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‘‘Strong enforcement is necessary for investor confidence and is essential to the integrity of our financial markets,’’ White, 65, said during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

She is expected win confirmation from the panel and the full Senate, becoming the first prosecutor to lead the SEC. She would replace Elisse Walter, who has been interim chairman since Mary Schapiro resigned in December.

Senators also questioned Richard Cordray, who was re-nominated by President Obama to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. His confirmation is less certain. Many Republicans opposed the creation of the agency in 2010 and want to limit his power.

Chairman Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, said after the hearing that the panel would vote on both nominations ‘‘as soon as possible.’’ Still, he noted that Republican objections to the consumer agency could hold up the vote.

White served as the US attorney in Manhattan from 1993 through 2002. By nominating her to the post, Obama sent a signal that he wants the government to get tougher with Wall Street.

Critics have complained that the SEC has failed to act aggressively to charge top executives at the biggest US banks who may have contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

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