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Senate confirms Gensler to lead SEC

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Biden’s pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), cementing a Democratic majority at the financial watchdog agency.

Senators voted 53-45 in favor of Gary Gensler’s nomination to the SEC, with GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Susan Collins (Maine) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) joining all 50 Democratic senators in support of his confirmation. Gensler will be named SEC chairman after he is formally sworn in and lead an agency split between three Democrats and two Republicans.

Gensler, 63, is a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and led the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for most of the Obama administration, supervising options and derivatives markets. He also served as Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance under former President Clinton after spending nearly two decades at Goldman Sachs.

Despite his Wall Street ties, Gensler endeared himself to progressives and financial sector critics during the Obama administration with his fierce criticism of risky investment practices and calls for tougher crackdowns on banks that shirk rules.

“Mr. Gensler is an experienced public servant with a strong record of holding Wall Street accountable. And he will lead the SEC at a time when it’s become more and more obvious to most people that the stock market is detached from the reality of working families’ lives,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, in a Tuesday speech on the Senate floor.

Gensler will take the helm of the SEC at a critical time for the investment industry and U.S. economy. 

Stocks have soared through record highs since last summer, fueled by a raft of fiscal and monetary aid and hopes for strong rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. The searing rise of the stock market and the growing influence of social media on Wall Street have prompted concerns about overzealous speculation causing widespread financial chaos.

The recent collapse of hedge fund Archegos and the immense losses it caused for major banks has also raised questions about the sustainability of the stock market rally and the adequacy of risk management practices.

“We expect the themes of Mr. Gensler’s chairmanship will likely be aggressive enforcement and increased transparency through additional disclosures,” wrote Brian Gardner, chief Washington policy strategist at investment firm Stifel.

Gensler is also expected to ramp up the SEC’s enforcement of climate-related disclosure requirements, tighten standards for investment offerings advertised as under the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) umbrella, and ramp up oversight of financial risks driven by climate change. 

While Republicans have praised Gensler’s experience and skill set, most GOP senators have denounced his plans to expand the SEC’s regulatory efforts in realms they consider unrelated to the agency’s core mission.

“Mr. Gensler certainly has a great deal of knowledge about the securities markets. However, based on his record and statements during the nomination process, I’m concerned he will cause the SEC to use its regulatory powers to advance a liberal social agenda focused on issues such as global warming, political spending disclosures, and racial inequality and diversity,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, in a Tuesday floor speech.

Though Gensler and Republican lawmakers will likely be at odds over most issues under the SEC’s jurisdiction, GOP senators have praised his openness to and interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Gensler has said digital currencies can play an important role in financial innovation and expanding access to investing, but need to be policed for fraud, money laundering and other financial crimes.

Gensler was confirmed for the remainder of the five-year term vacated by former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, a Trump appointee, when he resigned in December. With Clayton’s vacated term set to expire in June, Biden has already nominated Gensler for another five-year term that the Senate is also expected to approve.

He will join Democratic commissioners Allison Herren Lee — the acting SEC chairwoman — and Caroline Crenshaw, and Republican commissioners Elad Roisman and Hester Peirce. The SEC can have no more than three commissioners from the same political party.

Tags Chuck Grassley Climate change Cryptocurrencies Cynthia Lummis Gary Gensler Joe Biden Monetary policy Pat Toomey Securities and Exchange Commission Sherrod Brown Susan Collins

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