Apparently, you can only express your "disappointment" in someone so many times before you need to go to Plan B -- taking it up with their boss. That is where things stand now between U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and SEC Chair Mary Jo White after Warren's October 14, 2016 letter to President Obama asking the President to demote Chair White to a commissioner and designate another SEC commissioner as Chair of the agency.
For those of you who have not been following the Warren-White drama over the last 16 months or so, here it is a nutshell: Warren REALLY wants the SEC to implement a rule that would require public companies to disclose their political contributions. White has declined to do so, which has incensed Warren and provoked her to repeatedly express her profound "disappointment" in White in letters and in response to White's congressional testimony over the past year or so. Their most recent head-to-head confrontation occurred during White's June 2016 testimony before the Senate Banking Committee (video here), during which Warren stated that she was "more disappointed than ever” and White immediately shot back that she was "disappointed in your disappointment.”
This state of mutual disappointment was taken to the next level last week, however, when Warren asked President Obama to demote White and name a new Chair. Warren's primary complaint was, as before, that "White, has refused to develop a political spending disclosure rule despite her clear authority to do so, and despite unprecedented and overwhelming investor and public support for such a rule." Warren argued that while it would be an "uncommon act," the president has "unilateral authority - independent of both the Senate and the Commission- to designate a Chair from among the Commission's members." She wrote that White's "extraordinary, ongoing efforts to undermine the agency's central mission make such a step necessary."
The Obama administration immediately rejected Warren’s request. A spokesperson for Obama stated that “the president continues to believe that Chair White is the right leader for the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
As Kevin LeCroix writes here, there are several reasons why Warren's request is extraordinary. First, President Obama will, of course, be out of office in roughly 90 days. As as a practical matter, LeCroix notes, "it seems highly unlikely that the President would make such a move now. There was basically no chance that the letter would accomplish its stated goal to get the President to fire White." Second, the situation is odd in that both the President and Senator Warren are Democrats, and Warren continues to attack someone appointed by a President of her own political party -- "a highly unorthodox move," LeCroix writes.
In an editorial last week, the WSJ argued similarly that, indeed, Warren's letter is not about President Obama removing White, but "is really aimed at Mrs. Clinton. It’s a warning that she should replace Ms. White with a new chair who will impose the political rule, and that anyone Mrs. Clinton nominates as SEC chair won’t make it through a Democratic Senate without the approval of Queen Elizabeth."