Elizabeth Warren: Baltimore's rock star

There’s more than 40 miles that separate Baltimore from Washington.

In Washington, Elizabeth Warren has undergone some merciless grilling by members of Congress about the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she is setting up.

But in Baltimore, speaking at Rep. Elijah E. Cummings’ town hall meeting tonight, Warren received rock star treatment. In fact, she was called a “rock star” a few times and received two standing ovations in the overcrowded auditorium.

Cummings invited Warren to speak about the new bureau and take consumer questions. Even the Baltimore Democrat veered from his prepared remarks before Warren arrived, saying “I can’t get over my excitement. And I don’t get too excited about many things.”

The CFPB was part of the Wall Street reform law last year, and it officially opens up for business July 21. That’s when seven regulators turn over their consumer protection powers to the new agency.

Warren told the group that the agency has “the right tool and the right pieces to get the job done.”

But it won’t be easy.

“We are an agency that was born with enemies,” Warren said.

It was Warren’s idea in the first place to create an agency geared solely for consumer protection, and many of her fans want President Barack Obama to nominate her as its first director. The director must be approved by the Senate, and that’s the sticking point. Supporters of banks and financial institutions in Congress have opposed not only Warren’s appointment, but have introduced legislation that would gut the new agency before it launches.

One of the first questions from the audience was what can be done about all the payday lenders, pawnshops and check-cashing stores replacing community banks in urban neighborhoods. Warren said community banks have shrunk, while unregulated non-banks, like payday lenders, have grown.

The new bureau will have oversight over these non-bank businesses — applause from the audience — but only if there is director heading the agency, Warren said.

One woman said she supports Warren to head up the CFPB, but asked if there was any other candidate who could head up the agency.

Warren said some in Congress have stated that they won’t vote for any director – Republican or Democrat — unless changes are made to the structure of the bureau. (Cummings noted that Warren “is my candidate.)

When asked what her fans could do to get the pressure off her back in Washington, Warren suggested consumers show their support by visiting visit the bureau’s website. www.consumerfinance.gov

At least one questioner was obviously hoping the CFPB had broader powers. He asked what can be done about the Sunday morning talk shows that don’t ask tough questions.

“I can figure out a 260-page document,” Warren told the man. “I can’t figure out the Sunday talk shows.”


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