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Fiercely opposed by Warren, Treasury pick withdraws

Antonio Weiss will remain an appointed adviser.
Antonio Weiss will remain an appointed adviser.J. HOLLENDER/NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON — A Wall Street executive whose nomination to a high-level Treasury Department post triggered a showdown between the White House and Senator Elizabeth Warren publicly withdrew his name from contention Monday, giving her a major political victory.

The liberal Massachusetts lawmaker last year defied the White House and launched a bare-knuckle attack against Antonio Weiss, an investment banker President Obama nominated for undersecretary for domestic finance. The battle was seen as a crucial test for the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, which has rallied around Warren’s populist, anti-Wall Street rhetoric.

Weiss, in a letter to the president this past weekend, said the department would not be “well served by the lengthy confirmation process my renomination would likely entail.”

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Weiss, who spent decades at the investment firm Lazard, will still work closely with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew as an appointed adviser who does not require confirmation. This allows him to serve in a more limited capacity without a months-long, intra-party fight.

Politico first reported Weiss’s decision Monday afternoon. His letter made him a casualty of a broader debate within the Democratic Party about the direction of financial industry regulation and the amount of political power the industry exerts in Washington.

“We strongly believe that the opposition to his nomination was not justified,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said in a statement.

Warren last year blasted Weiss’s regulatory experience, questioned his work on international “tax inversion’’ mergers intended to avoid US corporate taxes, and depicted him as a symbol of the close relationship between Wall Street and the Treasury Department. She found support from a handful of Democratic senators, including Senate minority whip Dick Durbin.

“The risk of another financial crisis remains too high,” Warren said in a statement Monday night, “and we should be strengthening financial reforms, not rolling them back to benefit Wall Street.”

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The fractures in the party remained even after Weiss’s withdrawal.

“Antonio Weiss’s sin was wanting to be a public servant,” tweeted Jim Kessler, the senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a Washington-based centrist think tank founded by staff members of former President Bill Clinton.

Supporters of Weiss accused Warren of misrepresenting his experience for political points and unfairly pigeonholing him. They argued his liberal beliefs and focus on the middle class actually fell in line with Warren’s.

“This sent a message, and the message was Elizabeth Warren is going to be a litmus test for who the president of the United States chooses as staff,” said Tony Fratto, a former assistant Treasury secretary and a spokesman for former president George W. Bush. “It’s going to be difficult for whoever gets the job for domestic finance to have the preferred candidate in the building with you that really is going to be making policy.”

Lew, in a statement, noted Weiss’s “tremendous expertise” and “shared passion” and reiterated the opposition was unfounded.

This is not the first time Warren influenced a high-level financial oversight position. She helped with a campaign last summer to ensure Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary, did not receive the nomination for Federal Reserve chairman.

Last month, she led a liberal revolt against a bipartisan compromise on derivatives trading that she said weakens financial regulations. She lost that fight, but her move briefly cast uncertainty over whether Congress would approve a yearlong bill to fund the government.

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That effort came just weeks after she was named to a newly created leadership position among Senate Democrats.

Progressive groups, many of which are encouraging Warren to run for president, considered Weiss’s decision a win — and gave Warren full credit for it.

“It was the right thing for her to do,” Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, said in an interview. “We need in this administration people who are prepared to stand up to Wall Street, not be prepared to follow Wall Street.”

Some were still itching for a fight.

“The country would have benefited from an open, public debate about the Wall Street-centric view that what is good for Wall Street is really good for America,” said Dennis Kelleher, chief executive of Better Markets, a nonprofit that advocates for a safer and more transparent financial system, in a statement.

“Avoiding the public Senate confirmation process but nevertheless installing Mr. Weiss in a very senior position at the Treasury Department is unfortunate for the American people.”


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