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Warren finds support, ramps up attacks on Treasury pick

Says Obama’s Treasury choice is unqualified, part of inversion

Senator Elizabeth Warren.Timothy D. Easley/AP File

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren, in an increasingly public spat with the White House, on Tuesday issued her fiercest salvo yet about President Obama’s choice for a key Treasury Department post.

The Massachusetts Democrat — in a 4½-page speech with 34 footnotes — rebutted criticism about her opposition to Antonio Weiss, the nominee for undersecretary of domestic finance. She denounced his qualifications for the job, cast the relationship between Wall Street and the White House as dangerously unbalanced, and further dug a divide between the administration and her allies.

In a strikingly personal jab at Weiss and a broader knock at the White House, Warren noted Weiss’s employer, the investment bank and asset manager Lazard, would give Weiss a multimillion-dollar payment if he left for public service.

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“Mr. Weiss’s friends at Lazard are giving him a golden parachute valued at about $20 million as he goes into government service,” Warren said at a Capitol Hill event. “For me, this is one spin of the revolving door too many. Enough is enough.”

Warren, who will assume a Senate leadership role next month as a strategic policy adviser, has faced backlash from financial observers, editorial boards, and members in her own party for what they say is unfairly attacking Weiss.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment Tuesday directly on Warren’s speech but pointed to previous comments in support of Weiss.

Warren only continues to raise the volume on her attacks, and she’s finding support.

Democracy for America, a liberal political action committee, blasted an e-mail this weekend calling her efforts “a game-changing moment in the fight for the future of the Democratic Party.”

Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently labeled Weiss’s qualifications “weak.”

Liberal group MoveOn.org, citing her fight for America’s middle class, announced Tuesday it was prepared to spend at least $1 million on a “Run Warren Run” effort aimed at persuading her to enter the 2016 presidential race. Democracy for America plans to ask its members to vote on a similar campaign.

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Warren has repeatedly said she will not enter the race. And on Tuesday, at an event titled “Managing the Economy,” she kept the focus on Weiss.

She called him a “corporate dealmaker” and once again questioned how his international experience would lend itself to the domestic issues he would face at Treasury. She disputed notions that the merger Weiss participated in this summer between Burger King and Canadian fast-food chain Tim Hortons was anything but a tax inversion, a process in which companies relocate abroad to pay fewer taxes.

She accused the administration of going against its own beliefs.

“This matters — because at the end of the day, the administration undercuts its own opposition to this practice by nominating someone who was involved in a high-profile, cross-border inversion,” she said at a conference put on by Americans for Financial Reform, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Roosevelt Institute — all liberal groups.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest earlier this week defended Weiss’s experience and his values.

He “has a very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work, and that is critically important when you’re asking somebody to take on a position in the federal government that has such a significant bearing on those markets,” he told reporters.

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Earnest said Weiss “shares the president’s view” on simplifying the tax code and “eliminating the inversion loophole.”

Weiss and Lazard have declined to comment publicly, leaving his defense to others.

His supporters have ripped Warren for false remarks, pointing to an important mix of global and domestic roles in his two decades with Lazard. They contend the $11 billion Tim Hortons deal, which was approved by the company’s shareholders Tuesday, does not amount to the kind of dramatic inversion the administration wants to end. And they note Obama has largely appointed lawyers and career public servants to fill regulatory spots.

A Treasury official said they are not aware of any prominent Wall Street officials currently serving at the department.

The White House also pushed back on criticism about the parting package — up to $21 million — that Weiss would receive when he leaves for Treasury. Companies sometimes grant early payouts of stock and deferred compensation when executives move to lower-paying government jobs. The figures, cited by Warren and the AFL-CIO, are based on his recent financial disclosures.

Earnest said any ethics concerns would have been explored by the independent agency that vetted Weiss.

Asked if the president had an issue with the compensation package, Earnest said, “He does not.”

But Warren does.

“Weiss defenders are all in,” she said, “loudly defending the revolving door and telling America how lucky we are that Wall Street is willing to run the economy and the government.”

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The battle shows no signing of quieting down. The Senate Finance Committee, which will first need to confirm Weiss, does not expect to hold a vote in the waning days of this lame duck-session. Obama would need to renominate him next year, when Republicans take control of the Senate.


Jessica Meyers can be reached at jessica.meyers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicameyers.