Should Warren Run the Agency She Conceived?

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer, right, looks at Congressional Oversight Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren, as she answer a question during the Women in Finance Symposium at the Treasury Department in Washington.

It was Elizabeth Warren's idea back in 2007 to create a federal body to protect consumers from the "tricks and traps" of complex financial products, it was her scholarship that caught the attention of Barack Obama, and it was her efforts with the Administration in the past 18 months that helped make the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection a reality. So all of Washington is wondering, Will the President tap her to run the organization she invented?

The question is an electric one. Warren, an outspoken consumer advocate, is as beloved by progressive activists as she is distrusted by business lobbyists. Armed with petitions and press releases, liberals and labor groups have been fighting for her appointment, just as many in the business community, wary of Warren's take-no-prisoners approach, tremble at the prospect. Senator Chris Dodd, the Banking Committee chair, has even raised questions about whether Warren can be confirmed. The White House, which has lately been trying to restore its relations with Wall Street, says Obama has not decided. Nonetheless, the three front runners for the post have been identified as Warren, Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr and Eugene Kimmelman, a Justice Department attorney. "We are confident Warren is confirmable," says a White House spokeswoman.

Warren, meanwhile, has worked to stay busy as chair of the Trouble Asset Relief Program oversight panel, where she has been critical of the Treasury Department's handling of the bank bailouts. She has been careful not to openly campaign for her appointment and has not yet been interviewed for the position. Her message to the White House has been that whomever Obama chooses, it should be someone who can attract real talent to the new agency. "If you appoint a milquetoast as first director," says someone familiar with the discussions, "it's hard to get the agency off on the right foot."

All of the uncertainty suggests one likely outcome for Warren and the agency she created. Whether or not she is named to run the place, she will likely remain the most closely watched judge of how it carries out its mission.