It's hard to fathom but there's at least a fair chance that Elizabeth Warren may not get a seat on the Senate Banking Committee.
Warren's resume makes her a perfect fit for the committee. Her tenure as chair of the Congressional TARP oversight panel gave her a clear view of the intersection of the financial sector and government. In that post she distinguished herself as an independent thinker and critic of both the Obama administration and of banking practices.
Yet we have Senator Jack Reed, a senior Democrat who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, telling Reuters that he won't make a prediction about whether Warren will get on the committee. Other Senators won't comment. Harry Reid is staying silent on the matter.
If Warren is kept off Banking the official rationale will be that she lacked the seniority to land a seat on committee. Typically, longer serving Senators get sought after committee assignments before newcomers like Warren. There are two Democratic seats open, vacated by retiring Senators Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, but a number of more senior Democrats—including New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and Delaware's Chris Coons—reportedly want those spots.
But don't be fooled by formalism. The seniority rule is informal and could, of course, be waved to seat Warren on banking. It's really up to Reid as Senate Majority leader to make committee assignments. If he wants Warren on the committee, she gets the seat. If she doesn't want her on the committee, she won't. This is a matter of discretion.
Behind the scenes there are people working to keep her off the committee. A former Senate aide tells me that the banking committee staff does not like Warren and have begun to quietly campaign against her. Lobbyists are telling senior Democrats that Warren might be "more effective" on the Judiciary Committee, which does bankruptcy oversight.
The staff of the Banking Committee is extremely tight with lobbyists for the banks, many of whom are former members of that staff. The staffers and lobbyists socialize together, drink together, and sometimes even marry. They are elitists who think of themselves as a cut above other Capitol Hill aides. And they pretty much all want jobs at banks someday.
We probably won't know for several weeks if efforts to keep Warren off Banking succeed. Reid reportedly won't begin making committee assignments until the new year. But if, in the end, Warren doesn't wind up on Banking, it will be a big win for the financial sector's lobbyists.