Progressives Urge Senate To Reject Obama Treasury Nominee Antonio Weiss

WASHINGTON -- More than 100,000 progressive voters are urging the Senate to reject President Barack Obama's choice of Antonio Weiss, a former Wall Street banker, to fill a key post at the Treasury Department tasked with overseeing financial reform.

The president last month nominated Weiss, the head of investment banking at financial giant Lazard, as undersecretary of domestic finance. The role would oversee much of the Treasury Department's domestic economic policy-making, including implementation of Wall Street reforms put into place under the 2009 Dodd-Frank Act.

But Obama's choice of Weiss is rankling some in his party, not just because Weiss benefitted financially from the industry he would now regulate, but because his work at Lazard involved politically toxic "corporate inversions." Those types of transactions, which Obama himself has denounced as anti-American, involve U.S. companies relocating their headquarters to another country to avoid U.S. taxes. Lazard itself is based in Bermuda.

"We already have too many Wall Street types in the Treasury Department," reads a new petition being circulated by CREDO, a progressive activist group. "We need a Treasury leadership that understands Wall Street without being beholden to it, and represents different points of view than what you’ll get from someone who has spent his life in investment banking."

"Tell the Senate: No more Wall Streeters leading the Treasury Department," says the petition.

As of Tuesday, CREDO had already collected more than 103,000 signatures in opposition to Weiss. They're also teaming up with the senator leading the charge to sink Weiss' nomination: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). She recently wrote an op-ed laying out the reasons why she thinks Weiss is a bad choice.

"The overrepresentation of Wall Street banks in senior government positions sends a bad message," Warren wrote. "It tells people that one -- and only one -- point of view will dominate economic policymaking. It tells people that whatever goes wrong in this economy, the Wall Street banks will be protected first. That's yet another advantage that Wall Street just doesn't need."

The White House is standing by its nominee.

"Antonio Weiss is a highly qualified nominee and we look forward to the Senate's consideration of his nomination and swift confirmation," said White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman.

Last week, the Treasury Department compiled a fact sheet on Lazard and Weiss that it is sending around Capitol Hill to advocate for the nominee. The document, which was obtained by HuffPost, quotes at length and approvingly from New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who has argued for Weiss' nomination.

The memo also notes that Weiss would not be the first person to go through the revolving door. “Lazard has a long tradition of public service: Felix Rohatyn, Ron Bloom, Steve Rattner, Jim Millstein,” the memo reads.

Notably, the fact sheet does not address Warren’s central critique that Weiss is simply not qualified for the position. The job entails overseeing implementation of Wall Street reform and managing the department's book of roughly $17 trillion in debt. There is no evidence that Weiss has ever traded a book, nor does he have regulatory experience.

Instead, the fact sheet offers two bullet points with information not directly related to the position:

Background on Antonio Weiss
  • Antonio Weiss has served as a business advisor to numerous Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Honeywell and Kraft Foods.
  • As evidenced in the 2012 report he coauthored with Center for American Progress, "Reforming our Tax System, Reducing Our Deficit," Weiss believes we need to reform and simplify our tax code as well as implement policies that help boost economic growth while supporting our middle class.

A Treasury official said the memo is "just a background document to help answer senators' questions about a nominee."

For now, Weiss is waiting for his hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Until then, Democrats on the panel are staying mum about his nomination, which isn't likely to gain much traction until next year.

"I'm meeting with him, either this week or next week," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a member of the Finance Committee and chairman of the Banking Committee. "I told him I'd meet with him before I make public statements."

But some senators have already made up their minds about the Treasury nominee. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said if Weiss makes it out of the Finance Committee, he will vote against his confirmation.

"We need people on the president's financial team who are going to be working for the needs of working families and don't come from a background in Wall Street helping companies avoid their fair share of taxes," said Sanders.

One Democrat just wants to steer clear of intra-party drama over Weiss.

"We don't need another fight with Elizabeth Warren," said an aide to a Democratic senator.

Elizabeth Warren