NY Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin doubles down defending Wall Street's next Treasury candidate, Antonio Weiss. Are his arguments suspect? Let's look.
Just Like A Woman: The Weiss Nomination Pushback Has Begun
December 3, 2014

A version of this piece first appeared at digby's Hullabaloo. GP article archive here

This is an update to something I wrote recently. Elizabeth Warren is strongly opposed to Obama nominee Antonio Weiss for an under-secretary position at Treasury. She delineated her objections here (my emphases throughout):

Enough Is Enough: The President's Latest Wall Street Nominee

I believe President Obama deserves deference in picking his team, and I've generally tried to give him that. But enough is enough.

Last Wednesday, President Obama announced his nomination of Antonio Weiss to serve as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department. This is a position that oversees Dodd-Frank implementation and a wide range of banking and economic policymaking issues, including consumer protection.

So who is Antonio Weiss? He's the head of global investment banking for the financial giant Lazard. He has spent the last 20 years of his career at Lazard -- most of it advising on international mergers and acquisitions. ...

One of the biggest and most public corporate inversions last summer was the deal cut by Burger King to slash its tax bill by purchasing the Canadian company Tim Hortons and then "inverting" the American company to Canadian ownership. And Weiss was right there, working on Burger King's tax deal. ...

In recent years, President Obama has repeatedly turned to nominees with close Wall Street ties for high-level economic positions ... Enough is enough.

My comment was:

Weiss is Money-to-the-core — the billionaire's next nominee for Treasury — so he'll get Republican Yes votes. But he's Obama's nominee, so he'll draw Republican No's as well.

If the nomination fails, every Democratic No has joined with Warren and become an Open Rebellion candidate going forward. Voting No in a winning cause will take real courage — "I decline to follow the leader" courage — and every man and woman who does so deserves your praise and support. The crack in the Democratic caucus will widen and the insurgency will grow.

It will indeed take courage for a Democratic senator to oppose both Wall Street and the White House. Do you wonder what happens next? This.

The Pushback Has Started

And now the pushback starts. On the pages of the NY Times Dealbook, editor Andrew Ross Sorkin writes:

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Misplaced Rage at Obama’s Treasury Nominee

Less than 48 hours after President Obama nominated Antonio F. Weiss, a longtime adviser on mergers at the investment bank Lazard and a Democratic supporter, to become the under secretary of Treasury for domestic finance, Senator Elizabeth Warren denounced the appointment and said that she would vote against his confirmation. ...

She said she was furious that the president would nominate someone from Wall Street. “It’s time for the Obama administration to loosen the hold that Wall Street banks have over economic policy-making,” she wrote on The Huffington Post.

Specifically, she took Mr. Weiss to task for working as an adviser on Burger King’s merger with Tim Hortons, which will result in a combined company based in Canada, which she suggested should disqualify him.

It is rare to see such ferocious opposition to a nominee for a deputy position in the Treasury Department. It is rarer still when the objection comes from within the administration’s own party.

Yet Ms. Warren’s wrath is misdirected, and her understanding of the so-called inversion deal on which she bases much of her opposition appears misinformed. On these issues, as she might say, “Enough is enough.”

I'll let you read and decide for yourself if Sorkin's mitigation is mitigating enough, or if it even addresses the issues Warren raises. But as you do, also consider this, from the same article:

He [Weiss] has been a staunch supporter — and campaign donation bundler — for President Obama and is considered relatively progressive, especially by Wall Street standards.

Sorkin's piece contains a lot to unpackage. First, go back to my earlier piece or to Warren's and see if she accuses Weiss of the same things Sorkin defends him for, particularly regarding the Tim Hortons–Burger King inversion. In other words, does any of Sorkin's yes-but really matter? Or more importantly, does the new Tim Hortons–Burger King information mitigate Warren's main complaint, that:

In recent years, President Obama has repeatedly turned to nominees with close Wall Street ties for high-level economic positions.

I think the answer is no. Warren's charge stands as she expressed it. Obama is too close to Wall Street, and Weiss is a good friend of the "billionaire class" and no friend of the "little guy" or "the middle class," which he would need to be as head of the division that:

oversees Dodd-Frank implementation and a wide range of banking and economic policymaking issues, including consumer protection.

As Warren said, Weiss is unqualified by background, both specific (his job history) and general (his industry).

"Just Like a Woman"

Second, there are "tells" in Sorkin's piece, many of them, that tell us Sorkin is not just reporting the news, but trying the "move the needle" in Weiss' direction. Can you spot them? Here are a few:

  1. Warren has "rage" (from the headline no less).
  2. She's "furious" and "ferocious".
  3. She's motivated by "wrath".
  4. She "reserves a special rage" for the Burger King deal (from an unquoted part).
  5. She's "to put it politely, mistaken".

So unpackaging — "to put it politely" white male Wall Street reporter and Dealbook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin paints Elizabeth Warren as overly emotional (filled with "rage" and "wrath") and a liar. Just like a woman it seems, except for the liar part. To put it politely.

If he had implied she was vindictive, he's have the liar part connected to the "fury" (think about it). By these standards, his other complaints — that Warren's objection is "symbolic" and a "campaign talking point" — seem almost tame, kitten-strong, weekday road dust of no special note.

It's Not Just the Attack; It's the Defense of Weiss

But something else should be screaming out at you, something you think I missed. No, I didn't miss it. Here, from the text above, is part of Sorkin's defense of Weiss. He's:

An Obama bundler, and
"Relatively" progressive "by Wall Street standards"

Talk about a "tell." If I were Sorkin, I'd shut up about the "bundler" part. Now the appointment just looks corrupt, like one more sleazy "thank you" deal. ("Is the cash all there? Great, here's your appointment. Now scoot.")

And about the second part, what does "progressive" even mean in an industry dominated by predators and a predator culture? That Weiss is kind to kittens so long as he's not at work, eating them? (OK, that's snark. They don't eat kittens on Wall Street; they destroy human lives, then invest in the wreckage. Big difference.)

In my book, that "praise" earns an immediate No, even before I read Warren's carefully argued piece.

So Why Did Sorkin Write a Defense of Weiss?

I can't peek into Andrew Ross Sorkin's heart. But if his goal is to get Weiss nominated, it plays out like this:

1. Sorkin casts "doubt" on Warren's objections and provides to semi- or falsely-"progressive" Democrats a cover story for voting Yes. They can just point to the Sorkin article and say, "See? What he said."

2. Sorkin makes it obvious the New York Times supports the Weiss nomination. The Times is the "liberal" voice of the town that hosts the Wall Street casino and playground. Message: Both Money and New York mainstream "liberals" support Antonio Weiss. Don't get on the wrong side of that, Mr. and Ms. Senator.

3. He previews the kind of attack that could be waiting for any Mr. or Ms. Senator who does get on the wrong side of the nomination. Even men can be painted as rage-filled, or worse.

Do the statement above reflect Sorkin's motivation? Is he really carrying Wall Street water? Maybe not. But it's clear the other side is engaged and wants this nomination badly. Perhaps to them it's "symbolic" of something.

Watch This Appointment

Again, watch this one. It will tell you a lot about Senate Democrats, the state of my fancifully-named "Open Rebellion" caucus — Will other Senate progressives go along, or toe the neoliberal line? — and perhaps reveal the role of Harry Reid going forward. I'm reading and hearing that all is not glassy-smooth across Senate Democratic waters, at least regarding the Weiss nomination. At The Nation they're calling what Warren is doing an "insurrection" and they say she's not alone in insurrecting.

About time, say I.

P.S. As an added treat, and apropos of nothing at all, this. Enjoy.

Or do you prefer Norah Jones?


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