GOP "Screeching" Is Turning Liz Warren Into a Saint -- and Maybe a Senator

Last Updated May 25, 2011 1:19 PM EDT

Watching Rep. Patrick McHenry make a spectacle of himself by baselessly accusing Elizabeth Warren of lying, it's easy to forget just why the North Carolina Republican would resort to such embarrassing tactics. But it's simple, really: He's on the take from the financial industry, which virulently opposes appointing Harvard law professor Warren as the first director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Banks, securities firms, insurers, and finance and credit companies have donated huge sums to McHenry, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee -- more than any other business sector over his political career (see below chart). His top donors include Bank of America (BAC), whose Charlotte HQ is conveniently located right next to his congressional district; Wachovia, also based in Charlotte and now a part of Wells Fargo (WFC), another larger contributor; and the American Bankers Association.

Earlier this year, McHenry also keynoted a meeting of the Community Financial Services Association of America, the national association for payday lenders. (Curiously, I found no record of the speech on his website.)

The only surprise during Warren's turn before McHenry's subcommittee yesterday was the clumsiness of his attacks on her. The lawmaker came off as petulant, nasty and, frankly, slightly unhinged in badgering Warren over, of all things, how much time she would spend before the panel. Pouring on the weirdness (which you can watch below), the lawmaker objected after the hearing to what he called her "blatant sense of entitlement," an odd charge for a congressman who had just abused his office by trying to impugn Warren's character.


McHenry's financial-industry customers should ask for their money back. Whatever objections they have to stricter government regulation are lost in the din of Republican screeching. Such performances also only bolster Warren's enormous popularity with Americans, scores of whom spitballed McHenry's Facebook page. A few representative comments:
  • Sorry to hear about your rudeness to Elizabeth Warren. It is not collegial to call her a liar. Shame on you.
  • How did you becomew (sic) such a tool? Was it your upbringing? Was it the millions of dollars you took in special interest money?
  • You are an embarrassment to your office.
  • You've clearly shown your stripes as a Wall Street toadie, by putting your financial interests ahead of those of the American people.
  • Why do you care more about banks than you do about your constituents, Mr. McHenry? Oh, I forgot -- the banks and money-movers who got us into this financial mess ARE your constituents.
Adds financial pundit Yves Smith:
Today's spectacle had the Republicans looking like idiots who resorted [to] bullying when their initial salvos failed to hit their target. Chairman Patrick McHenry came off like an angry amateur, trying ineptly to play prosecutor by demanding yes and no answers to questions that were clearly setups or couldn't be answered that simply. The problem is that this tactic works only if you have legitimate questions and keep your cool.
The GOP's fixation on Warren is now propelling her career. With her profile on the rise, Democrats aim to recruit her as a challenger to Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown next year for his Senate seat. In trying for months to scupper her nomination to head the CFPB, in other words, Republicans have transformed her from a fairly anonymous, if visionary, consumer advocate into a cause. Bravo!

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  • Alain Sherter On Twitter»

    Alain Sherter is an award-winning business journalist who has written for The Deal, MarketWatch and Thomson Financial Media.

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