Progressive Pushback Foils Obama's Treasury Nominee

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Progressive Pushback Foils Obama's Treasury Nominee

Financial executive Antonio Weiss had faced criticism from Sen. Warren over his role in 'corporate inversions.'

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaking this month at the AFL-CIO Summit on Raising Wages. Warren was a strong critic of Obama's pick for a senior post at the Treasury Department, Antonio Weiss.  (Photo: Ben Wikler/flickr/cc)

In a development some are describing as a win for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Wall Street banker nominated by President Barack Obama for a senior post at the Treasury Department has withdrawn himself from consideration.

Antonio Weiss, an executive at financial giant Lazard, sent a letter to Obama this weekend asking that his nomination for Under Secretary for Domestic Finance not be resubmitted to the Senate. 

Since his nomination in November, Weiss has faced strong criticism from Warren. Among her concerns was Weiss's role in "corporate inversions"—what the Massachusetts Democrat described as when "companies renounce their American citizenship and turn their backs on this country simply to boost their profits." She wrote in November:

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. Weiss' work wasn't unusual for Lazard. That firm has helped put together three of the last four major corporate inversions that have been announced in the U.S. And like those old Hair Club commercials used to say, Lazard isn't just the President of the Corporate Loopholes Club -- it's also a client. Lazard moved its own headquarters from the United States to Bermuda in 2005 to take advantage of a particularly slimy tax loophole that was closed shortly afterwards. Even the Treasury Department under the Bush administration found Lazard's practices objectionable.

A statement from White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman on Weiss's withdrawal read, in part: "Mr. Weiss made the request to avoid the distraction of the lengthy confirmation process that his renomination would likely entail. "

As MSNBC reported, Warren "was able to rally opposition to Weiss not just from reliable progressives like Sens. Al Franken and Bernie Sanders, but Dick Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, and also Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the upper chamber."

Sanders and Franken issued statements Monday welcoming Weiss's withdrawal.

"The president needs economic advisors who do not come from Wall Street. In fact, he needs advisors prepared to stand up to Wall Street. We need economic policies in this country which ask the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes and which create millions of good-paying jobs," Sanders stated.

Franken stated that "Weiss made the right decision to take himself out of contention," and added: "I was troubled by his history working on international corporate mergers and so-called inversion deals that let corporations change their address to shirk U.S. tax responsibilities."

Though Weiss has taken himself out of the running for the third highest post at the Treasury, he will be assuming a different role at the department. He will serve as counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, a role which avoids a Senate confirmation.

The decision to keep him at the Treasury is "unfortunate for the American people," stated Dennis Keller, President and CEO of Wall Street watchdog organization Better Markets.

"The country would have benefited from an open, public debate about the Wall Street-centric view that what is good for Wall Street is really good for America. Given the suffering inflicted on the American people from the 2008 financial crash, they deserved no less," Keller stated.

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