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McCain takes hard line, says he would fire SEC chief

Cites regulations on trades that agency kept up

John McCain said yesterday at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that the SEC chairman ''has betrayed the public's trust.'' John McCain said yesterday at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that the SEC chairman ''has betrayed the public's trust.'' (Stephen Mally/Reuters)
Associated Press / September 19, 2008
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Republican John McCain, buffeted by criticism about his response to Wall Street's financial problems, said yesterday that if he were president he would fire the SEC chairman.

"The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president and, in my view, has betrayed the public's trust," McCain said at a rally in this battleground state. "If I were president today, I would fire him."

The Securities and Exchange Commission is the primary regulator of Wall Street, but "kept in place trading rules that let speculators and hedge funds turn our markets into a casino," McCain added.

The White House immediately expressed confidence in the chairman, Christopher Cox, whom President Bush appointed in 2005.

Cox, a fellow Republican and former 17-year House member who served on committees overseeing investor protection and US capital markets, attributed McCain's comments to the heat of the campaign.

Cox said the financial crisis was "presenting new challenges on an hourly basis" and that "steadiness and reduction of uncertainty" is what was needed. "History will judge the quality of our response to this economic crisis, but now is not the time for those of us in the trenches to be distracted by the ebb and flow of the current election campaign," he said in a statement. "And it is precisely the wrong moment for a change in leadership."

Cox said he has always been clear about his intent to leave the SEC when the Bush administration ends. His term officially ends in June 2009, but he could stay on until a successor is named.

Democrat Barack Obama mocked McCain's call to fire Cox, telling voters yesterday that they have a chance to do more than just get rid of the SEC chief.

"In the next 47 days you can fire the whole trickle-down, on-your-own, look-the-other-way crowd in Washington who has led us down this disastrous path," the Illinois senator said at a rally in New Mexico. "Don't just get rid of one guy. Get rid of this administration. Get rid of this philosophy. Get rid of the do-nothing approach to our economic problem and put somebody in there who's going to fight for you."

Democrats also quickly pointed out that while the president nominates the SEC chairman, who then faces confirmation by the Senate, the president cannot unilaterally fire him.

The McCain campaign argued, however, that the president can demote the chairman and can request the resignation of an appointee. It also said that Obama's campaign chairman, former senator Tom Daschle, once made a similar call.

McCain also proposed creating a trust to review mortgage and financial institutions, identify weaker ones, and strengthen them before insolvency.

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