Today, just a few days after clowning a parade of CNBC anchors, Senator Elizabeth Warren got another huge vindication, in the form of a 66–34 vote to confirm Richard Cordray as the first permanent director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency she set up in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Not only did Republicans confirm Cordray to head an agency they once called too powerful and “dead on arrival,” but they did so while, in some cases, admitting that they might have blown the whole “this agency and its unaccountable czar will ruin capitalism!” thing out of proportion. “We were wrong,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, according to the Times.
Cordray’s confirmation, and Graham’s admission that the CFPB might be worthy of a director after all, is proof that Senator Warren’s audacious attempt to shift the Overton window on the debate about banking regulation is working. In the span of two years, the idea of a new agency to protect customers from their banks has gone from seeming like a Marxist power grab to looking like common-sense postcrisis reform, among at least enough Republicans to make a difference. Nothing about the CFPB has changed since it was first proposed; the only difference between now and then is that the ground has shifted under it.
As I wrote earlier this week, Senator Warren is playing the long game here. By getting senior Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham to admit that some of her reforms make sense (or at least that they aren’t harmful enough to be worth obstructing), she’s making tough-talk on banks into politically acceptable rhetoric. Next, she’ll try to convince legislators that Glass-Steagall 2.0 will make the entire financial system safer.
That will be a tough task — much tougher than establishing the CFPB, which hasn’t hurt banks’ bottom lines in the same way a new Glass-Steagall would. But if the outcome of the CFPB confirmation fight is any indication, Senator Warren is too good to bet against.