Wall Street stenographer Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times complains this morning that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is making it harder for Wall Street veterans to take on government jobs overseeing the financial industry, calling the former Harvard law professor and longtime industry critic "misinformed" in her opposition to investment banker Antonio Weiss' nomination to a key Treasury Department post.
Weiss, President Barack Obama's nominee to be under secretary of Treasury for domestic finance, is currently head of global investment banking at Lazard, which advised Burger King on its merger with Canadian coffee and doughnut chain Tim Hortons -- a so-called inversion that will help Burger King avoid taxes. Warren cited Lazard's work on inversions in explaining her opposition to Weiss' nomination, but Sorkin contends that her concerns are "misplaced." Sure, tax avoidance may have been "a consideration" in the BK-Tim Hortons deal, Sorkin concedes, but they weren't the "primary factor." At any rate, Weiss was "simply as one of several advisers" of the merger -- hardly its mastermind.
Sorkin -- who has criticized some inversions in the past -- apparently finds no fault with the Obama administration seeking to enlist Weiss even as it pledges to crack down on corporate tax avoidance schemes.
While the inversion issue formed the crux of Sorkin's substantive defense of Weiss, Warren has also pointed to the nominee's financial industry background as a broad concern in itself.
"Neither his background nor his professional experience makes him qualified to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury," Warren wrote in the Huffington Post. "As someone who has spent my career focused on domestic economic issues, including a stint of my own at the Treasury Department, I know how important these issues are and how much the people in Treasury can shape policies. I also know that there are a lot of people who have spent their careers focused on these issues, and Weiss isn't one of them," she added.
Sorkin retorts that it's unfair for Warren to hurt Wall Street's feelings this way. First of all, Weiss is "hardly the prototypical banker," Sorkin declares. "He is a protégé of the writer and editor George Plimpton and is the publisher of the Paris Review, the literary magazine, giving it financial support for years to keep it alive." It's unclear what this tells us about how Weiss would handle, say, Dodd-Frank implementation, but just know that he's no B-school rube! Unlike Jordan Belfort, this guy can discuss the finer points of Proust.
Moreover, Sorkin writes, "Ms. Warren’s denunciation of Mr. Weiss is a reason many talented people in the private sector are unwilling to take on government roles." Right -- because if anything, our financial regulators include far too many academic experts, community leaders and small bankers, and not nearly enough Wall Street sympathizers. Thankfully, our persecuted plutocrats have Sorkin to defend them against Sen. Warren and her populist pitchforks.