President Obama will announce two new federal appointments today that are designed to send a signal to the financial industry that they aren't getting a free pass from Washington anymore. Obama will nominate former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, which would make her the first former prosecutor to head the SEC in its 79-year history.
White used to run the New York U.S. Attorney's office for the Justice Department (the first woman to do so), and despite a record of high-profile "hard crime" convictions—like mobster John Gotti and the 1993 World Trade Center bombers—she actually specialized in white collar crime. White was one of the attorneys who indicted Marc Rich on tax evasion, before he was infamously pardoned by Bill Clinton on his last day in office. She currently runs the litigation department at the high-powered law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, which has put her on the same side of some Wall Street firms.
The President's other move is actually a re-nomination, but one that is likely to ruffle some more feathers in Congress. Obama is re-appointing Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray has already had the job for a year, but only because of a recess appointment made after the Senate blocked his official nomination. The Senate has never confirmed a permanent director of the CFPB. Corday is also a former prosecutor.
By appointing two lawyers to these key posts, the White House hopes to begin a new era of stricter enforcement of the finanical industry, relying on people who (by appearances at least) are lot less chummy with Wall Street than the ex-bankers and economists they are used to dealing with in the government. Most Republicans still find the very idea of the CFPB offensive, but perhaps Obama is hoping for a slightly more favorable Senate for Cordray's hearing this time around. (Especially if filibuster reform actually happens.)
Financial regulation has been one area that Republicans have pushed back the hardest on, but now that his second term is in full swing, the President seems bolder than ever. Given all the other fights on their plate right now, who knows how hard the GOP is willing or able to fight back?
President Obama will formally announce both nominations during White House ceremony this afternoon.