President Obama announcing the nomination Thursday of former U.S. Atty.… (Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images )
WASHINGTON -- President Obama nominated Mary Jo White to be the new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying her track record as a hard-nosed prosecutor means she won't be easily intimidated as Wall Street's new top watchdog.
"You don't want to mess with Mary Jo," Obama said Thursday during a White House appearance with White.
Obama also announced he the renomination of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a position he has held since a controversial recess appointment last year.
Flanked by White and Cordray, Obama said they would play key roles in protecting "consumers and our financial system from the kinds of abuse that nearly brought the economy to its knees."
"It's not enough to change the law," Obama said in touting the 2010 overhaul of financial regulations. "We also need cops on the beat to enforce the law."
White would be the permanent replacement for Mary Schapiro, who resigned as SEC chairwoman in December. Obama temporarily elevated SEC Commissioner Elisse Walter to the agency's top position.
White was the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, a prestigious position that handles Wall Street cases and other high-profile prosecutions.
In that job from 1993 to 2002, she prosecuted accused white-collar criminals, insider traders, drug traffickers and terrorists, including those involved in the 1993 World Trade Center attack and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
"As U.S. attorney, Ms. White demonstrated a strong commitment to aggressively enforcing one set of rules for all, and her outstanding record of bringing white-collar criminals to justice speaks for itself," said New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman. "She is a tough, experienced prosecutor, which is exactly what the SEC needs right now to restore investor confidence."
White said Thursday she looked forward to working to "fulfill the agency's mission to protect investors and to ensure the strength, efficiency and the transparency of our capital markets."
"The SEC, long a vital and positive force for the markets, has a lot of hard and important work ahead of it," she said.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted White would be easily confirmed by the Senate.
"Mary Jo White is a fearless, tough-as-nails prosecutor with the knowledge of industry to keep up with the markets' swift innovation," he said. "She will not shy away from enforcing the laws to ensure that markets operate fairly, but her integrity means she will approach all matters without regard to politics."
Cordray's nomination could be more problematic. His current appointment is set to expire at the end of the year, and Obama's decision to renominate him is likely to trigger a battle with Senate Republicans.
Cordray was placed at the helm of the agency a year ago in a recess appointment, avoiding the need for Senate approval, after nearly all Senate Republicans vowed to block anyone picked to head the agency unless changes were made to reduce its power.
"Richard's appointment runs out at the end of the year and he can't stay on the job unless the Senate finally gives him the vote that he deserves," Obama said Thursday.
"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."
The recess appointment infuriated Republicans and spawned a lawsuit by a Texas bank and two free-market advocacy groups claiming it was unconstitutional because the Senate was not in a formal recess.
The consumer bureau was created by the 2010 overhaul of financial regulations and Republicans have complained that it concentrates too much power in a single director.
The opposition to Cordray was led by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and his views have not changed, said spokesman Jonathan Graffeo.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was the original architect of the consumer bureau, and ran for the Senate last year after her own potential nomination to head the agency was scuttled by Republican opposition. She cheered Obama's decision to renominate Cordray.
"I worked with Rich to set up the agency and believe he is a strong leader with a proven track record of fighting for consumers and pushing for a level playing field between big banks and smaller financial institutions like community banks and credit unions," she said.
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