Former Treasury Officials Dispute Elizabeth Warren's Contention That Lazard Banker Isn't Qualified To Do The Job

Four former Treasury Undersecretaries for Domestic Finance wrote a letter yesterday detailing why Wall Streeter Antonio Weiss is right for that job.

The Obama administration has nominated Weiss, the head of investment banking at Lazard, as Undersecretary of Domestic Finance, the No. 3 position in the Treasury.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is trying to block Weiss’s confirmation, arguing that he is from Wall Street and therefore won’t look out for America’s middle-class families. Sen. Warren and others have also argued that Weiss’s experience has not prepared him for the job.

The former Undersecretaries, who held the same job, dispute that.

Though they didn’t explicitly name Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been the strongest critic of Weiss’ nomination, the letter responds to her claims that Weiss, who spent much of his investment banking career overseas, is not qualified for the domestic finance role.

“No candidate’s background can be expected to align precisely with every duty of the position,” wrote former undersecretaries Mary John Miller, Jeffrey Goldstein, Robert Steel, and Randal Quarles.

Here’s what Warren’s press secretary told Business Insider in response:

“Senator Warren has been pointedly questioning the Wall Street-centric culture that has existed at Treasury and understands that various insiders find that threatening. She’s encouraged that Antonio Weiss supporters are now acknowledging that Dodd-Frank implementation is central to the role, and she continues to believe his experience is not the right fit.”

Dodd-Frank implementation is important to the Massachussetts Democrat, who spearheaded the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Earlier this week, Congress passed a spending bill that included new exceptions to the Dodd-Frank Act, which would allow banks to once again trade potentially risky derivatives.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Warren said the new provisions “would let derivatives traders on Wall Street gamble with taxpayer money and get bailed out by the government when their risky bets threaten to blow up our financial system.”

Warren has repeatedly said that Weiss, who heads investment banking at Lazard Ltd and has a background in international mergers and acquisitions, does not have the qualifications to make decisions on national debt, consumer policy, and Treasury stability.

“His supporters say, ‘Come on  —  he’s a smart investment banker, so of course he is qualified to oversee all the complicated financial work done day in and day out at the Treasury.’ But his defenders haven’t shown that his actual experience prepares him for this job,” Warren said in a speech at the Economic Policy Institute Tuesday.

But the White House is standing by their nominee, stating on Tuesday: “This is somebody who has very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work, and that is critically important.”

Neither that statement nor the former undersecretaries’ letter addresses Warren’s concern with Lazard Ltd’s history overseeing unpopular mergers widely seen as tax inversion deals.

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