When Elizabeth Warren was sworn in today as a US senator, it was not only the culmination of an election campaign she launched in September 2011, but also the completion of a political turnabout started the previous May.
In May 2011, 44 Republican senators signed a letter to President Obama, vowing to block his nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau without changes to the consumer watchdog agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory act.
At the time, Warren was a Harvard Law School professor working for the president to set up the bureau. The consumer advocate was widely seen as its logical inaugural director.
But Senate Republicans, led by Richard Shelby of Alabama, objected, and, ultimately, Obama used a recess appointment to fill the job with former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray.
“This is about accountability,” said a statement issued on May 5, 2011, by Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.The bureau, as currently structured, lacks any semblance of the checks and balances inherent in the Constitution. Everyone supports consumer protection, but we should never entrust a single person with this much power and public money. We are simply asking the president to support common sense reforms that provide the accountability absent in the current structure.”
Among the signatories were Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell; Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, who is retiring from Congress today; and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who remains in the chamber and whom Warren joined today as part of an unprecedented group of 20 female senators.
Collins’s presence underscores the ironic dynamic behind Warren’s election as senator: Had Senate Republicans not vowed to block her nomination as head of the consumer bureau, she never would have run for elective office.
Now, because of their opposition, she joined them today as a political equal.
Along the way, she ousted one of their own, Republican Senator Scott Brown, who did not sign the letter but left office upon Warren’s swearing-in.
And when today’s festivities conclude and the work of the 113th Congress begins, Warren will take a seat alongside Shelby not just in the Senate chamber, but as a member of the Senate Banking Committee.Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.