Political Animal


December 08, 2011 12:30 PM Senate GOP kills consumer watchdog nomination

By Steve Benen

Two months after the Senate Banking Committee approved Richard Cordray as the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Senate leadership brought the nomination to the floor this morning. Republicans refused to allow a vote.

The Senate blocked confirmation on Thursday of Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general picked by President Obama to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Democrats fell short of the 60 votes they needed in a procedural vote to move forward with the nomination of Cordray. Senate Republicans had spoken against the nomination, reflecting their concerns about the creation of the bureau, which was established in last year’s Wall Street reform bill.

Fifty-three senators voted for Cordray, while 45 — all Republicans — voted against ending debate on his nomination. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) voted for Cordray, and Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) voted present.

For the record, Snowe’s “present” had the same practical effect as voting “no.”

It’s hard to overstate how outrageous today’s filibuster really is.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recently explained, “Cordray’s record as attorney general of Ohio puts him in a small group of people able to act effectively to deal with the mortgage crisis. No one has raised any questions about his intelligence, integrity or dedication. Yet his nomination will not even be fairly considered by the full Senate. Forty-four Republicans have announced that in disregard of their constitutional duty to consider nominations on the merits. They will not confirm anyone until the Senate majority reverses itself to once again put bank regulators in a position to overrule virtually all of the policies that would be set by the consumer agency.”

Quite right. Congress passed legislation creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the president signed it into law. Republicans are now saying they’ll allow the agency to function, but not until Democrats agree to weaken the law in ways the financial industry likes.

It’s all part of the normalization of extortion politics. Traditionally, if the GOP wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it to committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and might not work. Instead, we see the latest in a series of GOP extortion strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won’t allow the agency to meet its legal mandate.

And in this case, the bureau’s mandate involves protecting American consumers against possible abuses. Republicans don’t want Americans to have those protections, and would prefer to let the free market do as it will, no matter how often or how severe the public gets screwed.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) checked with the Senate Historian’s office this week, and found that this is the first time in history that a party has blocked a qualified nominee solely because it does not like the existence of the agency the nominee was selected to lead.

In terms of a possible recourse, the White House has limited options, but is not completely without alternatives. More on that later this afternoon.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • fool me once... on December 08, 2011 12:31 PM:

    When will the Dems learn that nothing the Rs do will ever cost them in public opinion, since the media is all about "both sides do it"? Oh, how I yearn for Dems with real spines and a willingness to play on an even field.

  • Peter C on December 08, 2011 12:40 PM:

    I think we need to make the Republicans explain why this is not OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE!

    The Department was created by law - duly passed and signed. They are preventing the department from functioning.

  • c u n d gulag on December 08, 2011 12:44 PM:

    Is this any way to run an airline?

    It's certainly no way to run a country!

    If the US was an airline, the GOP junior flight crew members would ground the flight based on the fact that it was flying to a Liberal city, and not some small town in the "Heartland."

    GOP: "We don't like where you're taking us!!!"

  • KarenJG on December 08, 2011 12:53 PM:

    Itís hard to overstate how outrageous todayís filibuster really is.

    It's also hard to overstate how outrageous this coverage from MSNBC is. No, "the Senate" didn't block confirmation, Republicans did. Period, full stop.

    fool me once has it right - the media will say "both sides do it" EVERY time. It's up to Democrats to scream loudly enough that it's NOT both sides that the media has no choice but to at least report their "claim."

  • MNRD on December 08, 2011 12:53 PM:

    This is simply further proof that the GOP is doing everything in its power to further rig the system in favor of the 1% against the 99% - as if there was any need for more proof at this point.

  • MaryAnne on December 08, 2011 1:02 PM:

    The filibuster has to be ended. It is being abused and used to thwart majority rule.

  • Joe Friday on December 08, 2011 1:03 PM:

    FRANK: "Cordray's record as attorney general of Ohio puts him in a small group of people able to act effectively..."

    That is the RightWing's problem with Cordray in a nutshell.

    It's the same reason the gangsters didn't like Eliot Ness.

  • Mark on December 08, 2011 1:07 PM:

    If I were the president, I would use my recess appointment power and then work hard at getting a majority back in the House and strengthening it in the Senate.

    What else can be done? The system is not broken as much as it is abused by being overwhelmed with money. This needs to be addressed and corrected.
    In a side note, Senator Bernie Sanders will be introducing an amendment to the Constitution this afternoon to overturn the disastrous Citizen's United decision. An amendment that I am strongly urging my representatives in both houses to endorse and support.

  • chi res on December 08, 2011 1:08 PM:

    Where's RepublicanPointOfView saying:

    "Now why on earth would we vote to put a gun in our enemy's hand?"

  • chi res on December 08, 2011 1:11 PM:

    Where's RepublicanPointOfView saying:

    "Now why on earth would we vote to put a gun in our enemy's hand?"

  • chi res on December 08, 2011 1:13 PM:

    argh... stupid browser

  • square1 on December 08, 2011 1:17 PM:

    Itís hard to overstate how outrageous todayís filibuster really is.

    I'm sorry, but I am all out of sympathy for the Democrats. Do they understand the meaning of the word "rules"?

    This is what the filibuster rule is. It is an anti-democratic procedure that permits a minority to frustrate the will of the majority. At best, it is a 19th Century anachronism that should have been completely reformed, if not abolished, 30 years ago.

    The Republicans aren't "abusing" the rules. They are using the rules. If Democrats don't like the rules they can change the rules. It really shouldn't be too much to ask a bunch of legislators to draft a set of rules that they can live by.

    We are living in the 21st Century. Everybody lives by deadlines. There should be time for debate then an up or down vote. Democrats didn't want that. At the beginning of this Congress, despite more than ample experience with Republican obstructionism, Democrats wanted to preserve the filibuster without significant modifications. Democrats were motivated in part out of a misplaced sense of tradition. And in part because they wanted to preserve the filibuster as a tool for when they are in the minority again.

    Well, Democrats got what they wanted. Now they should
    stop whining.

  • jjm on December 08, 2011 1:18 PM:

    I eagerly await hearing what you say are other options the WH had on this.

  • DAY on December 08, 2011 1:22 PM:

    I wonder if Elizabeth Warren polling ahead of Brown had any effect on his vote? Hmmm??????

  • kevo on December 08, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Talk about rats defecating in their own nest!

    Someone needs to remind Senate Republicans they are lawmakers in the upper chamber of our law making institution, and if they wish to be lawless by condemning an agency they allowed to be passed into law, they are as untoward as any blight upon democracy could be, or as deficatingly stupid as any rat is wont to be! -Kevo

  • DisgustedWithItAll on December 08, 2011 1:41 PM:

    square1 does not understand, perhaps intentionally, that the Senate can not function by literal and pedantic use/abuse of rules. There must be good faith.

  • T2 on December 08, 2011 2:08 PM:

    No Wins for Obama. on anything.

  • square1 on December 08, 2011 2:15 PM:

    @Disgusted: On the contrary, I understand just fine that, theoretically, the GOP could effectively shut down the Senate by refusing to consent to approving routine business by voice vote. But that isn't what happened here.

    Here the GOP has substantive objections to the nominees. I may disagree with their objections. You may disagree with their objections. But they have them and they have every right to use the tools in their toolbox to block nominations and legislation that they substantively oppose.

    Now, if it was up to me, "everything in their toolbox" would be limited to making a speech for a period of time and then registering a vote. But Democrats have chosen, in their infinite wisdom, to give the minority the power to block up or down votes indefinitely.

    Listen, I'm telling you the solution to the problem: get rid of the filibuster. If you choose to ignore it, don't get mad at me and accuse me of not understanding Senate procedure.

    This all reminds me of a scene from The Blues Brothers:

    Jake Blues: [to Sister Mary Stigmata] 5 grand? No problem, we'll have it for you in the morning. Let's go, Elwood.

    Sister Mary Stigmata: No, no, I will not take your filthy stolen money!

    Jake Blues: Well then... I guess you're really up Shit Creek.

    [Sister Mary Stigmata hits Jake Blues with a ruler for using that kind of language]

    Sister Mary Stigmata: I beg your pardon, what did you say?

    Jake Blues: I offered to help you... You refused to take our money. Then I said; I guess you're really up Shit Creek.

    In the present context, I suggested that Democrats change the rules... Democrats refused to abolish the filibuster. Then I said 'I guess the Democrats are really up Shit Creek.'

  • Rick Taylor on December 08, 2011 2:16 PM:

    "Itís hard to overstate how outrageous todayís filibuster really is."

    I disagree. Democrats in the senate had the opportunity to change the rules regarding filibusters and they declined to do so. So presumably they were content with Republican obstructionism, as it was entirely predictable it would continue.

  • booch221 on December 08, 2011 2:37 PM:

    It's time for the D's to invoke the nuclear option, just as the R's did back in the Bush administration. That is, change the Senate rules to prohibit blocking judicial and cabinet appointments.

  • Djs04 on December 08, 2011 2:46 PM:

    DisgustedWithItAll apparently believes that, even though a rule allows something, everyone playing the game should play nicely and avoid doing that behavior if it results in the board flipping over and pieces scattering everywhere.

    Square1 (and others) have it right: Republicans are behaving according to the rules. The rules themselves suck. Democrats had the opportunity (when they controlled the Senate) to change the rules. They didn't because either they have a fondness for tradition or (more likely) they want the ability to use the rules (filibuster) to F over Republicans when they find themselves in the minority.

    Unfortunately, somebody has to change the rules or else every minority party will increasingly find it convenient to filibuster everything.

  • Michael Masinter on December 08, 2011 2:46 PM:

    Though in 2009 democrats held a substantial majority in the Senate, I doubt that they ever had the votes to sustain a ruling from the chair that it took only a majority vote to adopt new rules that January. Their nominal 59 votes included many members whose power within the party depended on their ability to join forces with republicans to block legislation not to their liking; we saw that play out in the extended health care debate. Had the filibuster been abolished, what would have become of Max Baucus, Joe Lieberman, and the many other democrats whose influence depended on the need for 60 votes? Add to that the few senators who out of principle would insist on treating the Senate as a continuing body, and the votes weren't there even in 2009. They surely weren't there this year; why would someone like Ben Nelson vote to marginalize himself?

    If republicans gain control of the senate and white house, perhaps they'll do away with the filibuster, but I doubt it; for most of its history the filibuster has been deployed to block progressive legislation and progressive nominees, and a party at war with government itself is likely to take a long view and keep every weapon at its disposal.

    So the filibuster is here to stay; it's part of a seriously broken system of government, one the constitution itself forbids us from fixing even by amendment (Article Five exempts restructuring or eliminating the Senate from the normal constitutional amendment process).

  • Djs04 on December 08, 2011 2:49 PM:

    On a final note - DWIA is technically right that Senate functioning is largely dependent on good faith participation by its members towards each other. However, there is no way to guarantee that any yahoo elected by the population will act in good faith. Hence, why the rules need to be stronger to not allow bad faith (i.e. filibustering everything) to be rewarded. Having a filibuster available to every member of the Senate means the Senate will only be as well behaved as its worst behaved member... which lately are all republicans.

  • Djs04 on December 08, 2011 2:55 PM:

    @Michael Masinter - Well then I guess we should simply have 1 party rule. If what you say is true, then Republicans are essentially always and forever in control. Either they actually have a majority, and pass whatever they want... or they have a minority and hold up whatever they don't want.

    Dems need to wake up to this... otherwise, we don't have a democracy anymore.

  • John Corzine on December 08, 2011 3:20 PM:

    That's how the GOP operates.

  • Frank on December 08, 2011 3:31 PM:

    Thinking on the reasons behind the current rules: they are there to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority (regardless of whether it is R or D at a point in time). The Senate was not designed to grant the majority everything they want (there is no such thing as majority rule in the constitution). The Senate is designed to deliver REPRESENTATION across majority and minority. Bringing forward legislation that will not pass under the rules (i.e. not enough broad support) is, at best, a waste of time and energy, and at worst, displays why the American public thinks our representatives are more interested in politics than solutions. If you are looking for a reason public disapproval of Congress is 80+%, this might be a good place to start.

  • MNRD on December 08, 2011 4:05 PM:

    square1, how ironic that yesterday you claim that none of your posts ever indicate that you might be a right-wing poseur Troll, and then today you provide us with a post that reads just like a right-wing poseur Troll.

    Even more ironic is this gem you posted yesterday: "As a liberal, my primary concern is with fixing the systemic flaws. However, the myth that Steve Benen perpetrates is that our system is basically functioning properly..." You make a blatantly false accusation against Steve and at the same time claim that your "primary concern is with fixing the systemic flaws". Then you turn around today and defend the greatest Congressional systemic flaw of them all? Who do you think you're kidding?

  • Doug on December 08, 2011 8:16 PM:

    Just as there are appropriate and inappropriate uses for, say, a hammer; there are appropriate and inappropriate uses for a filibuster. Requiring EVERY nomination and EVERY piece of legislation to overcome a filibuster, or the threat of a filibuster, is an inappropriate use of it.
    There is absolutely nothing intrinsically bad about the filibuster. It's simply a device to be used, on rare occasions, to signify, and display, one's EXTREME opposition to a nominee or piece of legislation. And, with luck, possibly sway some votes.
    I do think that, with the start of the next session of Congress, it would be wise for Sen. Reid and the Democratic caucus to return to the pre-1980s form of the filibuster. Perhaps if the Republicans had to actually filibuster, they might reconsider their blanket use of it?

  • square1 on December 08, 2011 10:46 PM:


    GOP obstructionism is not a systemic flaw. The filibuster rule is a systemic flaw. Benen whines about GOP behavior without catching on (or admitting, if he does catch on) that the flaws in the system create incentives for the Republicans to behave exactly as they are behaving. And they will continue to behave exactly as they are behaving until you remove the structural incentives for them to behave as obstructionists.

    today you provide us with a post that reads just like a right-wing poseur Troll.

    Let me get this straight. For the past three years, the GOP has gotten tremendous mileage out of using the filibuster to obstruct Democratic efforts. I come in here and explain how to overcome Republican opposition and you accuse me of being a right-wing troll. Very odd. I don't encounter too many right-wing trolls going around explaining how to frustrate the GOP's plans. YMMV.

    In point of fact, my post reads exactly as it is: the moderately acidic comment of a liberal who is frustrated with a Democratic leadership that is too stupid, corrupt, or cowardly to employ extremely obvious defenses to predictable Republican behavior.

    If you cannot tell the difference between a frustrated liberal and a Republican then I suggest that you avoid working on any Democratic candidates' political campaigns during the next 11 months as you will likely cost them more votes than you will add.

  • Jimmy on December 09, 2011 2:09 PM:

    There seems to be a great deal of GOP bashing without the admission that the Dems have been equally "obstructionist" when in the minority. I for one thank God that Democratic efforts have been thwarted. They did enough damage while they were in control.

  • Campesino on December 09, 2011 2:41 PM:

    Sen Barack Obama, April 2005:

    Everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse. Now I understand that Republicans are getting alot of pressure to do this from factions outside of the chamber, but we need to rise above the ends justify the means mentality.

    If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party, then millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice if fear that the already partisan atmosphere in Washington will get be poisoned to the point that we will not be able to agree on anything and doesnít serve anybodyís best interest and it certainly isnít what the Patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.