McCain caught overpromising on SEC chairman

John McCain said Thursday that if he were president now, he'd fire SEC chairman Chris Cox -- only problem is, the president doesn't technically have that power.

Published September 18, 2008 7:20PM (EDT)

As our very own Andrew Leonard noted over in How the World Works, in a speech John McCain gave on Thursday, he called for the firing Chris Cox, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The regulators were asleep, my friends," McCain said. "The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president. And in my view has betrayed the public trust. If I were president today, I would fire him."

There's just one little problem with McCain's comment, though. The president doesn't actually have the power to fire the SEC chairman. At ABC News' blog Political Radar, David Wright writes:

While the president nominates and the Senate confirms the SEC chair, a commissioner of an independent regulatory commission cannot be removed by the president.

From time to time, presidents have attempted to remove commissioners who have proven "uncooperative." However, the courts have general upheld the independence of commissioners. In 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt fired a member of the Federal Trade Commission and the Supreme Court ruled the president acted unconstitutionally.

Wright asked McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds to explain how the Republican nominee would fire Cox if he were elected. "Not only is there historical precedent for SEC Chairs to be removed, the President of the United States always reserves the right to request the resignation of an appointee and maintain the customary expectation that it will be delivered," Bounds responded. Wright says the McCain camp pointed to the example of former SEC chairman Harvey Pitt, "who resigned in 2002 when it was made clear to him that he had lost the confidence of the Bush administration."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.