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January 04, 2012 10:35 AM Obama to give Cordray a recess appointment

By Steve Benen

This is a big, bold move by the president, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

In a defiant display of executive power, President Barack Obama on Wednesday will buck GOP opposition and name Richard Cordray as the nation’s chief consumer watchdog even though the Senate contends the move is inappropriate, senior administration officials told The Associated Press

With a director in place, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be able to start overseeing the mortgage companies, payday lenders, debt collectors and other financial companies often blamed for practices that helped tank the economy.

White House sources have confirmed that the AP’s report is accurate and that the recess appointment will be announced, almost certainly this afternoon when the president speaks on the economy in Cordray’s home state of Ohio.

Congressional Republicans hoped that by relying on pro-forma sessions, the White House would be unable to make recess appointments since there technically wouldn’t be a recess. But as we discussed a month ago, the White House is not required to honor the pro-forma sessions when considering recess appointments. Jonathan Bernstein and Ian Millhiser have written about this in some detail.

It’s worth noting that I’m generally not a fan of these kinds of recess appointments. My preference would be that presidential nominees face a fair Senate confirmation process, and the White House not circumvent the legislative branch for the sake of convenience.

But in this case, there’s only one sensible conclusion: Senate Republicans left Obama with no choice.

No one, not even the most unhinged Republicans, are questioning Cordray’s qualifications, and if the Senate were to vote on his nomination, it would be approved fairly easily.

But Republicans won’t allow that because they disapprove of the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The agency is already part of federal law, but GOP senators have said they will refuse to allow the agency to function or do any work unless Democrats agree to weaken the CFPB’s powers and lessen consumer protections.

This has no precedent in American history. The Senate has simply never blocked a qualified nominee solely because a minority of the chamber does not like the existence of the agency the nominee was selected to lead.

Republicans, in other words, have embraced a radical nullification strategy, as part of a larger effort to normalize extortion politics. In no uncertain terms, GOP leaders have said they’ll refuse to allow existing law to function until Democrats meet the Republicans’ demands and does Wall Street’s bidding. When the Senate minority is satisfied, they’ll consider allowing the law to proceed — if they feel like it.

Traditionally, if the Republicans 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 hostage 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.

The Republican tactics on this are nothing short of madness. I’m relieved President Obama has had enough.

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.

Comments

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  • stormskies on January 04, 2012 10:38 AM:

    All's I can say is: Fuck Yes ............ go for it Obama ......... and with your middle finger in the air at that

  • K in VA on January 04, 2012 10:40 AM:

    Bravo!

  • MattF on January 04, 2012 10:42 AM:

    It's good policy and it's good politics. I can see Obama on the campaign trail touting the benefits of the CFPB and noting that it faced die-hard Congressional Republican opposition. Word to the Republicans: watch what you say right now, if it's stupid enough you'll get to see it repeated in campaign ads.

  • c u n d gulag on January 04, 2012 10:43 AM:

    THAT FASCIST!

    Cue the shrieking, moaning, tearing at the hair, and rending of the garments!!!

    3... 2... 1!

  • Danp on January 04, 2012 10:45 AM:

    He's daring Republicans to impeach him, which they would do if they could win the argument over Cordray's appropriateness. My guess is that they will limit themselves to a small amount of outrage over the process, and the media won't even delve into why Obama might possibly have done such an outrageous thing.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 04, 2012 10:45 AM:

    I'd like to see an articulated principle: When the minority in the Senate abuses its privileges to prevent a nominee from even receiving a vote, then the President will appoint that nominee to the position by his recess power. The minority should not be allowed to gum up the works of the government indefinitely.

  • RalfW on January 04, 2012 10:46 AM:

    "Traditionally, if the Republicans 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..."

    Bless their GOP hearts, they've gotten so stupid that maybe they can't figure out how to write legislation and pass it any more.

    It might be that this is all they can muster in their febrile, diminished state. We should pity the Republicans for their lack of ability, skill, and knowledge.

    And then kick their sorry butts out of Congress in November.

  • jpeckjr on January 04, 2012 10:50 AM:

    While I'm pleased with this, a truly big, bold move by the President would be make recess appointments for ALL the executive branch positions, ambassadorships, and judgeships the Senate has left vacant, and do it at one time. Saying, "Since the Senate has been unable to serve the good of the country, I will."

  • pattyp on January 04, 2012 10:57 AM:

    Bless their GOP hearts, they've gotten so stupid that maybe they can't figure out how to write legislation and pass it any more.

    That's what ALEC is for. ;-)

  • Gummo on January 04, 2012 10:58 AM:

    As someone who's been critical of Obama in the past in these comment sections, I couldn't be more pleased.

    I hope the president will spell out so no one can miss it (not even our right-wing lapdog press) the reasons he had to do this.

    And I agree with jpeckjr that Obama should just say fukkit and appoint all his blocked appointees today.

  • DAY on January 04, 2012 11:01 AM:

    @ stormskies-
    My thoughts, exactly!
    Deploy the dreaded Middle Finger, early and often.
    Please, Sir, can I have some more?

  • cmdicely on January 04, 2012 11:06 AM:

    In a defiant display of executive power, President Barack Obama on Wednesday will buck GOP opposition and name Richard Cordray as the nationís chief consumer watchdog even though the Senate contends the move is inappropriate, senior administration officials told The Associated Press

    Is there any evidence that this is true. I mean, "the Senate contends the move is inappropriate"? It seems to me this claim is outright manufactured by the unnamed writer of the AP article. Nowhere in the article is any support for the attribution of this sentiment to "the Senate", and it seems that it relies on taking any Republican position that isn't opposed by a filibuster-proof majority of the Senate as the position of the Senate.

  • cmdicely on January 04, 2012 11:12 AM:

    While I'm pleased with this, a truly big, bold move by the President would be make recess appointments for ALL the executive branch positions, ambassadorships, and judgeships the Senate has left vacant, and do it at one time. Saying, "Since the Senate has been unable to serve the good of the country, I will."

    I think that this is a step toward this. As part of the blackmail strategy the Republicans have been following in the Senate, they've said they've got lots of nominees that they are willing to support on the merits, but that they are holding off agreement to vote on them until the President agrees to let them use pro-forma sessions to block recess appointments.

    This is a demonstration that the President absolutely rejects that position, and that if the Senate wants to block his nominees, they need to actually vote them down. (with the implication that otherwise, they should approve them.)

    If the Republicans keep blocking the nominations now that its clear that their blackmail can't work, the Obama gives recess appointments to the rest of the nominees.

  • exlibra on January 04, 2012 11:17 AM:

    Am looking forward, with great pleasure, to seeing Repub heads explode. The guy has a long, slow burning fuse but, once it's lit well and proper... watch out!

  • POed Lib on January 04, 2012 11:19 AM:

    Great. This is great.

    Now, Obama needs to GO BIG or GO HOME. Appoint members to the NLRB, fill every single appointment waiting, EMPTY the queue.

    Then appear before the American people and accuse the Repukes of unconstitutional footdragging.

  • hells littlest angel on January 04, 2012 11:23 AM:

    Hooray! Obama has done the right thing and bought himself a ton of good will. (Not to mention he's stepping on Romney's cock ;))

    "...the Senate contends the move is inappropriate..."

    I really hate the Associated Press.

  • ahoy polloi on January 04, 2012 11:24 AM:

    i want to hear the words "nullification" and "unconstitutional" and "obstructing consumer protection" over and over and over and over again when obama speaks in ohio today.

    maybe if he says it enough, the press will have to talk about why exactly we're in this position. ie, that republicans are literally trying to block the implementation of a law their own institution passed.

  • T2 on January 04, 2012 11:27 AM:

    the GOPers are going berserk - it's fun to watch.

  • hells littlest angel on January 04, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Bachmann is bailing out. What a sad day for those of us who like to mock public simpletons

  • schtick on January 04, 2012 11:30 AM:

    Once he lowers taxes for the rich and corporations, raises taxes on the rest (and small business), removes all regulations that prevent big oil from making more than 24 mil an hour profits, do away with 40 hr workweeks/overtime, minimum wage and child labor laws, he can have the other appointments.....maybe.

    crapcha....heitudin some....he did?

  • martin on January 04, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Good for Obama for doing it.

    Better still if he repeats, frequently, "Hostage", "Filibuster", "Unprecedented" and "Obstructionist." Points removed for any use of the word "Bipartisan."

  • zandru on January 04, 2012 11:33 AM:

    "the Senate contends the move is inappropriate"

    "The Senate contends"? Oh, really? Harry Reid (Democrat) says a recess appointment is "inappropriate"? My guess is that anonymous Republican operatives, speaking for the 41-member minority, don't like it.

    These folks may control the activities of the Senate, due to brain-dead tradition and rule, but they are hardly "The Senate."

    Contact your Democratic Senators and urge them to go all out for rule reform as the opening discussion of the 2013 Congress. If they have to move Harry Reid to the back bench in favor of a Democrat with more moxie, so be it.

  • MuddyLee on January 04, 2012 11:50 AM:

    Obama: take charge, do what you have to govern, go to war with the repubs. They will not hate you any more than they do now and your 2008 supporters might get fired up for your re-election. Do it, then explain it (several times) in simple language so that Fox News and Limbaugh et al can't get away with lying about what you're doing.

  • pea on January 04, 2012 11:59 AM:

    With one year to go that he can count on, it's time to accomplish as much as possible AND make clear that it's not "Congress" but actually the R's in Congress who are blocking the government from working for the people. He must energize the D's and I's to vote not just for him but also vote for more Dems in Congress to create a govt that helps solve the 99%ers' problems. 4 more years of stagnation is not sufficient, and too many people might decide to vote for someone "new" just to try to avoid this, without realizing they are putting more of the stagnating Rs into power (witness Hungary). This HAS to be made crystal clear to the Independents, who are too busy with school, work or family to figure out what's really going on beneath the constantly misleading headlines & soundbites (like the AP quote above). And let's hope Eric Holder gets Justice in gear on derailing voter suppression tactics and watching for the high possibility of vote-count fraud. I suspect Rs use the former partly to distract us from the latter.

  • Buffalo Harold on January 04, 2012 12:00 PM:

    The Senate Republicans should be loudly cheering President Obama for refusing to cave in to the GOP's outrageous extortions. After all, by making recess appointments in the face of opposition from the Republican Senate cabal, the President is merely implementing the long-standing Republican position that we should never negotiate with or acquiesce to the demands of terrorists -- which is exactly what Mitch McConnell and his nauseating Senate cohorts have become: legislative terrorists.

  • square1 on January 04, 2012 12:06 PM:

    I agree with Steve Benen that these types of recess appointments are not to be favored, as a matter of good government behavior.

    However, I would argue that, in this particular case, it is also bad politics. First of all, contrary to Steve Benen's claim that this is a "big, bold move", it will largely go unnoticed by the public. People notice conflict, not appointments when Congress is out of town. Other than political insiders and junkies, I doubt the appointment will resonate.

    Once again, from a political theater standpoint, it would have made far more sense to stage a confrontation and let the GOP oppose the office in principle. Demand an up or down vote. Have a few stemwinding speeches by Democrats in favor of reasonable regulation of financial products and services.

    As for policy, this is one of the few offices where I fail to see how Republicans blocking a vote actually made a bit of difference. The statute that created the CFPB gave the President and Treasury Secretary authority to appoint anyone they wanted on a "temporary" basis. Obama could have had Cordray be the "acting" head of the CFPB for another 4 years -- sort of like a recess appointment without the dodgy appearance of abusing the recess power. If Republicans wouldn't allow a vote on a permanent head, they would look like idiots if they complained about Cordray remanining in the position.


  • SYSPROG on January 04, 2012 12:11 PM:

    Oh Square1 you are SO cautious...and a reason why the Dems appear so timid. This is the first step in the FU campaign of Obama in the race for the President. You THINK it will go unnoticed? Try again. There will be major gnashing of teeth by the GOP whining about how the 'President has abused his power'...THEY will make it a big f'ing deal and the WH will smile. Watch.

  • LiberalGRIT on January 04, 2012 12:30 PM:

    Square1, I think you're wrong on the politics, but on the intent, specifically to leave him as "acting" head -- I do believe there are portions of the law that don't kick in without a permanent head, and that's what gave extra motivations to Republicans to hold this up.

  • Okie on January 04, 2012 12:37 PM:

    Great news!

    But why only one recess appointment? Why not 20 or 30? How much madder could it make the Republicans? And who cares?

  • Jay C on January 04, 2012 12:41 PM:

    @ square1:

    While you might have a point in claiming that President Obama's recess appointment to the CFPB may go "unnoticed" by the public, it is still far from "bad politics". It is very much a win-win situations for the Pres, Dems, and the country as a whole, (but few people seem to care about that). If the CPFB appointment does indeed go unnoticed: win - at least the agency will have a head, and can go about doing its job. If the GOP makes a fuss: win - arguing against consumer protection (and in favor of bankster abuses) is scarcely a winning issue for them. Not to mention highlighting their obstructionism yet again.

    What they're left with is the usual sorry-ass whinging about "executive overreach" and the "privileges of the Senate": which, unfortunately, is probably all the MSM will concentrate on.

    Oh, and yeah, that bit about "...the Senate contends..." is astonishingly lame, even for the AP. I, for one, am going to email my Senators to challenge this inane formulation: however, being as those worthies are Mr. Schumer and Ms. Gillibrand, it's probably redundant...

  • beejeez on January 04, 2012 12:41 PM:

    Looks like the Times has rewritten the lede to clarify it's Senate Republicans, not "the Senate" that is opposing the recess appointment. I don't know how AP is reporting it; I assume incorrectly.

    BTW, if a Democratic president should be able to demand an up or down vote on an appointment, so should a Republican. I'd rather deal with the occasional asshat appointment than preserve this chronic anti-small-d-democratic habit of appointment limbo.

  • DAY on January 04, 2012 12:49 PM:

    We have seen increasing evidence this past year that President Obama fully understands "timing".

  • JW on January 04, 2012 1:06 PM:

    National, the republican party will likely go the way of California's GOP. Twenty-some years ago, the lunatics took over the asylum (i.e., the state's party apparatus) and have steered it to ruin. There's a reason California is a blue state, and the political wiles of the state's democratic party has zero to do with it.

  • square1 on January 04, 2012 1:26 PM:

    @SYSPROG: you don't have to agree with me, but do yourself a favor and avoid the gratuitous nonsense arguments. I routinely advocate that Democrats take a far, far, far more confrontational attitude with regard to the GOP than either the White House or Congressional Democrats have displayed.

    Agree or disagree with my approach but to call me timid is rather silly.

    I believe in playing offense not defense. Generating narratives, not responding to the GOP.

    Will the GOP over-react? Maybe. Will the GOP take the side of the banks? Maybe. But I doubt it. If history is any guide, the GOP will make this about Obama's "power grab" and appointing "another czar" then Democrats will make a sorry-ass defense of the procedural issues, the entire point of the CFPB will be ignored by the media and then Steve Benen and the commenters on this site will cry into their beers because the media isn't reporting the Democrats' side.

    But why wait? If Democrats were in front of the microphones every day bemoaning the GOP's obstruction and accusing the GOP of defending the banks against their customers then the GOP would be forced to react.

  • tOC on January 04, 2012 1:27 PM:

    "No one, not even the most unhinged Republicans, are questioning Cordrayís qualifications, and if the Senate were to vote on his nomination, it would be approved fairly easily.

    But Republicans wonít allow that because they disapprove of the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The agency is already part of federal law, but GOP senators have said they will refuse to allow the agency to function or do any work unless Democrats agree to weaken the CFPBís powers and lessen consumer protections."

    WHY
    WON'T
    OBAMA
    SAY
    THIS
    AD NAUSEUM???

  • Anonymous on January 04, 2012 1:32 PM:

    Square1 now: "I agree with Steve Benen that these types of recess appointments are not to be favored, as a matter of good government behavior. However, I would argue that, in this particular case, it is also bad politics. First of all, contrary to Steve Benen's claim that this is a "big, bold move", it will largely go unnoticed by the public. People notice conflict, not appointments when Congress is out of town. Other than political insiders and junkies, I doubt the appointment will resonate.":

    As you said back in September, "In short, the Dems can decide that the GOP's obstruction is within the bounds of acceptable political opposition and fight back. Or they can decide that the opposition is excessive and make recess appointments. In either case, they need to stop whining."

    As far as I can tell, (1) Obama decided that the opposition is excessive and made a recess appointment, and (2) Obama is not the one who has been whining, neither on Sept. 24 nor Jan. 3.

  • Hannah on January 04, 2012 1:32 PM:

    I agree with those who say Obama should go big and appoint a bunch of nominees that will help advance his agenda. The public in general may not pay any attention to this, but they'll hopefully notice when there are results that benefit them. And then Obama can point to his work. And he most definitely must point to Senate GOP tactics as being against the will of the people. Push back against McConnell's ridiculous statement.

    On another front, an expert says that the most recent Ohio earthquake on 12/31/11 was due to fracking and that it's not the first one. Read here: http://news.yahoo.com/ohio-earthquake-not-natural-event-expert-says-002703764.html

  • N.Wells on January 04, 2012 1:38 PM:

    Anonymous @1:32 was me. Done in by Captcha failure - sorry about that.

  • square1 on January 04, 2012 2:31 PM:

    @N.Wells:

    The two quotes are not inconsistent.

    As I said, recess appointments when made not because of a genuine recess but merely to bypass the legally-mandated confirmation process are to be frowned upon. This is true when Democrats do it. It is is true when Republicans do it.

    There are situations where I would use the tool as a necessary evil. Mainly when an opposition party has so frustrated the confirmation process that the very workings of government are at risk of grinding to a halt. Even there, there should be a good faith effort to overcome the obstruction through traditional means.

    For example, the shortage of federal court judges is a real problem. If Republicans won't allow votes, Obama should appoint judges to relieve the legal backlog.

    However, as I said before, I am unaware of any work that the CFPB cannot now do that requires a recess appointment. Maybe I am ignorant. If someone can point to some important duties that an acting head cannot perform, I'd love to hear it.

    In cases where the President believes that action is necessary, it is preferable (both politically and from a good-government standpoint) for an administration to make its case for extraordinary measures. For example, the President could hold a press conference 30 days before the next scheduled recess, announce that the Senate's failure to hold an up or down vote threatens to unacceptably leave an essential post unfilled, and warn that the failure to vote up or down within 30 days will result in a recess appointment. This comports with the principles of check and balances.

    Or the Senate could abolish the filibuster for confirmation votes at least. Up or down.

  • chi res on January 04, 2012 3:09 PM:

    For those who would rather not plow through the verbosity--

    Shorter Square 1: Obama can't do anything right, even when he does what I say he should do.

  • chi res on January 04, 2012 3:27 PM:

    In addition to naming Richard Cordray to head the new consumer bureau, President Obama will also use recess appointments to install his picks to the National Labor Relations Board, reports Greg Sargent.

  • square 1's conscience on January 04, 2012 3:42 PM:

    Shorter square 1: I'm gonna whine at whatever Obama does.

  • MNRD on January 04, 2012 4:38 PM:

    "there’s only one sensible conclusion: Senate Republicans left Obama with no choice."

    That is the underlying rationale behind the President's basic governing process. First determine what is POSSIBLE. Then, when other options have been closed off, do what is NECESSARY.

    First, the President needed to establish that he was dealing with unprecedented obstructionism with this Congress. Then, he was in a position where he could argue persuasively that taking a more confrontational approach toward this Congress was NECESSARY. Some progressives argue that the President spent too long building that context. Maybe. However, there is something to be said for making ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that the context really has been firmly established. Because if the context really has been firmly established,then the President has far more freedom to make confrontational moves without those moves being perceived as overreach.

  • Doug on January 04, 2012 10:05 PM:

    "I believe in playing offense, not defense. Generating narratives, not responding to the GOP." square1 @ 1:26 PM

    And how, pray tell, is nominating the CFSB head and members to the NLRB NOT playing offense? True, President Obama hasn't, literally, kicked any Republicans in the gonads, but hey, isn't it the thought that counts?
    As for "generating narratives", if these appointments DO that, I can't see said narratives being in the Republicans' favor. They can TRY to argue about "power grabs", but to do so means they're going to have to claim EVERY candidate for EVERY unfilled position that President Obama has nominated is completely unqualified and could only pass on a strictly partisan vote BECAUSE OF their lack of fitness. Outside of Fox (so-called) News, good luck with that.
    Face it square1, you're just going to have to get used to another four years of hearing "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States" and seeing Barack Obama step up to the microphones. Oh, the horror!
    Not!

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