WASHINGTON The White House is considering nominating Mark Wetjen, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for a top job at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, The Financial Times reported on Friday.
Democrat Michael Dunn's term as a CFTC commissioner ends in June. The time is crucial because the CFTC is trying to finalize more than 40 detailed regulations implementing 2010's Dodd-Frank over-the-counter derivatives reforms.
Wetjen's nomination would require Senate confirmation -- a hurdle that could be even higher than usual due to Republican antipathy for the CFTC's reforms and an overheated political climate ahead of 2012's elections.
The White House is conducting background checks required for the nomination of Wetjen, The Financial Times reported.
Wetjen declined comment, as did several other Democratic sources on Capitol Hill.
People who have worked with Wetjen, a lawyer, on economic policy issues described him as a hardworking "nice guy" whose positions on derivatives reforms are unknown.
"He's not an ideologue. He's a very smart guy who thinks about things and tries to figure out how to get them right," said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, an advocacy group pushing for financial reforms.
If Wetjen is nominated for the job, Republicans hold enough power in the Senate to block his nomination.
Dunn has said he will stay on the CFTC until his replacement is confirmed by the Senate.
"I have an obligation to the public ... that I need to be there and ensure there are five people on the commission making these decisions," he told Reuters this week.
Some Republicans may want to see Dunn stay on. Though he is a life-long and well-connected Democrat, he has shown an independent bent in his decisions at the CFTC, where he has been skeptical of a plan to curb commodity speculation.
Under law, Dunn can remain through the end of 2012. If he did and if Republicans won control of the White House, they could nominate one of their own to replace him, giving Republicans a majority on the commission.
Sources said "horse trading" is common with agency appointments. Republicans could back Wetjen in exchange for Democratic support for a Republican candidate elsewhere.
CFTC nominations have been held up in the past, even before swaps reforms became a top economic issue.
A group pushing for strong limits on speculators wrote to President Barack Obama this week, urging him to choose a candidate who puts "Main Street before Wall Street and LaSalle Street," referring to the Chicago trading district where the CME Group is located.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Kevin Drawbaugh, additional reporting by Richard Cowan, editing by Matthew Lewis)