Political Animal


January 05, 2012 8:00 AM Progress vs. process

By Steve Benen

Republicans were not at all pleased yesterday when President Obama used a recess appointment to make Richard Cordray the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But as Felicia Sonmez noted, the fight leaves GOP officials in the unpleasant role of fighting over process, while Democrats work on policy.

The problem for Republicans is that while they’re in the right when it comes to Democrats’ about-face on recess appointments, they face two big roadblocks: the intricacies of procedural arguments often fail to resonate with the public, and Congress’s approval rating remains mired in the single digits.

The White House, meanwhile, can make the argument that it is installing Cordray to make good on a promise of financial regulatory reform. (There’s also the challenge for Republicans that part of the CFPB’s role is to oversee non-bank institutions such as payday lenders and debt collectors — a category of lenders that might be particularly hard for Republicans to cast as “job creators” who are burdened by overregulation.)

This is entirely right and important on both counts. On the policy vs. process angle, the Democratic message comes down to this: “We’re principally concerned with protections for middle-class families and American consumers, not procedural minutiae in Washington.” The Republican message, meanwhile, is this: “We’re principally concerned with the administration honoring recent traditions on pro-forma sessions and the technical definition of ‘recess,’ following Senate cloture votes.”

Which side of that divide do you suppose has the stronger hand?

But Sonmez’s parenthetical point is just as interesting. When Republicans — both in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail — went berserk yesterday in response to the White House’s move, they were also taking a firm stand against consumers’ interests.

When Mitt Romney blasted the president for “Chicago-style politics at its worst,” it offered Obama for America Press Secretary Ben LaBolt the opportunity to say exactly what he wanted to say: “By opposing the appointment of Richard Cordray to run the first-ever consumer watchdog bureau, Mitt Romney today stood with predatory lenders and Republicans in Congress over the middle class. He doubled down on his promise to eliminate the Wall Street watchdog and allow Wall Street to write its own rules again, leaving consumers vulnerable to hidden fees, financial traps and excessive risk taking that will hit their pocketbooks. Governor Romney has made clear he has not learned the lessons of the economic crisis, instead, he’s giving the most irresponsible financial actors a bright green light to pursue profit at any cost to communities across America.”

For the president and his team, it’s a pretty straightforward challenge: do Republicans stand with consumers or do they stand with predatory lenders?

Taken together, yesterday’s recess appointment for Cordray checked off a lot of boxes: it advanced the interests of the middle class, pushed back against unprecedented GOP obstructionism, gave Obama’s base something to cheer about, and left Republicans arguing over process and against consumers’ interests.

What’s more, Obama can now also claim that his move has bipartisan support — Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) endorsed the move. Brown used to believe the opposite, but I don’t imagine the White House will care now that officials can say, “The Cordray appointment enjoys Democratic and Republican support.”

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.


Post a comment
  • hells littlest angel on January 05, 2012 8:06 AM:

    Time for the Republican Ministry of Truth to delete all references to Obambi and replace then with Ohitler.

  • c u n d gulag on January 05, 2012 8:09 AM:

    Usually, it's the Democrats who are the policy and procedure wonks, and the Republicans who come off looking like the "doers."

    It's nice for a change, to have the shoe on the other foot.

    Yes, Republicans, please go and show your support for Pay-day Lenders - whose usurious rates would make Shylock's head spin, and make mobsters shake their head at the very chutzpah of such high rates, and wonder why they never thought of it.
    And Wall Street!
    I mean, who doesn't LOOOOOOOVE Wall Street?

    So, yeah, Repubicans - "Keep on keepin' on!"

  • Danp on January 05, 2012 8:12 AM:

    I would skip the part about bipartisan support. Brown's support is as phony as any Romney flip-flop. While it's nice to claim you are willing to compromise on details, it's more important to cast this issue as us versus them. The contrast is stark and virtually unanimous. A position taken for the convenience of a campaign doesn't mitigate that.

  • bignose on January 05, 2012 8:15 AM:

    Generic bumper sticker for 2012:


  • DAY on January 05, 2012 8:25 AM:

    it would be useful to give the numbers of recess appointments, starting with Reagan.

    (The numbered in the hundreds for each administration. Until Obama. Then the number is less than gulag's age. . .)

  • low-tech cyclist on January 05, 2012 8:27 AM:

    I think that the White House also needs to point out that the President is Constitutionally charged with seeing that the laws are faithfully executed, and in appointing Cordray, he's carrying out that obligation.

    While this argument is aimed more at the DC talking heads than the average citizen, it's one that needs to be made.

    It's an especially strong argument because the Republicans weren't objecting to Cordray specifically - they were completely aboveboard about refusing to confirm anyone for that position.

    I'd like to see Will or Krauthammer weasel around that argument.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 05, 2012 8:27 AM:

    Like my dear old ma who used to tell me when I was crying and complaining. "you want something to cry about ? I'll give you something to cry about" followed by a swat on the arse.
    They will never compromise so why not actually get something done and really give them something to clutch their pearls and hit the fainting couch .

    @ hells littlest angel O'hitler - love it

  • SadOldVet on January 05, 2012 8:29 AM:

    The Washington Monthly has an article by a paid pimp from The Brookings Institute about the Cordray appointment titled Is the President Playing Fair During Recess?.

    It is one thing for commenters to post sceptical comments about Obama. Why in the hell is The Washington Monthly providing a forum for this person?

  • PQuincy on January 05, 2012 8:31 AM:

    I suspect that Romney in particular, and many Congressional Republicans in general, have no idea how pissed off most Americans are at the absurd and abusive tactics the banks have been using -- because they have had absolutely no experience of such tactics.

    Scams like the banks habit of reorganizing withdrawals to maximize overdraft fees, for example, were obviously dishonest -- but those with healthy checkbooks (average Congresscritter's net worth >$500,000) didn't experience them.

    Part of the culture of the Democrats is to be open to considering the situation of others, even if one is not oneself subject to the same difficulties. But since the fundamental principles of the Republican party, these days, are selfishness, the denial of any responsibility or caring for the welfare of others ("We Republicans are NOT our brothers' keepers!"), and disinterest in empathy, there is no reason to expect that people like the current Republican candidates or legislators would stop to think how it feels when you have barely enough money to buy medicine for your sick kid, and the bank then hits you with $90.00 extra in fees by taking your biggest withdrawal, which put you in to overdraft, first, then charging you $30.00 each for two small withdrawals. It would make me furious...and makes me think of my sister-in-law, who once scoured her house for pennies to have enough to buy cough syrup for her daughter.

    They just don't get it.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 05, 2012 8:46 AM:

    re PQuincy...

    We, of the wealthy funding wing of the republican party, get it! We just don't care...

    - More is never enough!
    - I've got mine, f*ck you!

  • N.Wells on January 05, 2012 8:47 AM:

    Day's right: this discussion should never happen on our side without noting Reagan 240 recess appointments, GHWB 77, Clinton 140, GWB 171, and Obama 28.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 05, 2012 8:55 AM:

    How true . My wife just went to close her account at B of A . She asked for the funds in a check and they informed her it would be $10.00 for a check explaining free checks are for "special customers" who maintain a $15,000 balance. They then had the temerity to ask why she is closing the account.
    Poor people's problems.
    As you state , never to be experienced by those in power.

  • Danp on January 05, 2012 8:59 AM:

    They then had the temerity to ask why she is closing the account.

    I hope she just laughed and said, "just trying to spread the wealth."

  • Ladyhawke on January 05, 2012 9:03 AM:


    The Republican Party obstruction has forced President Obama's hand and gave him no other choice but to recess appoint Richard Cordray as director of the CFPB.

    The GOP has unwittingly given the CFPB the best advertisement it could ever get. Now, finally, Americans across the country will hear about the one organization that was created solely to protect consumers.

    Just imagine the local news reports about the recess appointment and imagine the folks who are saying gee I didn't know that organization existed. Why would any government official be against that??

    Know Before Your Owe


  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 05, 2012 9:03 AM:

    Scott Brown's problem is, why would the voters of Massachusetts elected a lite version of Elizabeth Warren when they can just elect the real deal? I'm fairly sure Scott Brown is wishing Obama had used his recess authority to appoint her to the spot...

    ObCAPTCHA rant: What I really love is that, if you make a mistake and then hit "Return to original entry", the comment you've just typed is lost forever.

  • sparrow on January 05, 2012 9:09 AM:

    Republicans complain about Obama leading from behind whatever the hell that means), and when he steps in front and makes the recess appointsments, they still piss and moan. It's in their nature.

  • ElegantFowl on January 05, 2012 9:15 AM:

    It's good to see firmer resolve from Democratic politicians to improve government despite GOP assault. But Democratic legislators need to sharpen their pencils as well, and stop leaving loopholes to be exploited by the Senate minority.

    Specifically, the CFPB statute was written to grant authority to the director "confirmed by the Senate", rather than granted to the agency directly or to its duly-appointed director. That language opens the door to legal challenge of its recess-appointed director.

    This is similar to the lapse in the ACA legislation, in which the standard severability clause was omitted, allowing the entire statute to be undermined if just one clause (such as the individual mandate) were found unconstitutional.

    In this political era, legislation must be written to survive attack by a committed and unprincipled minority and their industry lobbyists, and scrutinized for loopholes that our creative Minority Leader is sure to find and exploit.

  • schtick on January 05, 2012 9:18 AM:

    30 years ago, when I became fed up with banks and decided to put my money in a sock, then discovered credit unions, I went to the bank to withdraw all my funds. The teller I was dealing with I knew and I told her to make sure everything was covered, fees etc., etc., so I could close the account. She did and knowing me, she already knew why I was closing the account, (fees for a statement every THREE months, fees for checks, fees for cashing checks, fees for using the account, fees for not using the account, fees, fees, fees,).
    At that time, the fee for cashing a check was 15 cents. They spent 20 cents on a stamp to tell me I owed them 15 cents. I called them and told them to take me to court after they shoved it up their ass. They never sent me another notice.

  • square1 on January 05, 2012 9:18 AM:

    @B Gilroy: Just hit preview until you get something legible. If it still rejects it, just go back on your browser once. Not sure what "return to original entry" is.

  • golack on January 05, 2012 10:07 AM:

    It's not like he appointed someone the Senate actually rejected...I mean no one would ever do that...

  • Diane Rodriguez on January 05, 2012 10:09 AM:

    Being a bespectacled middle aged woman myself, I am getting quite a chuckle watching Scott Brown run for his life from Elizabeth Warren.

  • jrosen on January 05, 2012 10:18 AM:

    When I closed my B of A account (partly because I have a local bank branch right on the corner of my street)I was asked why. I said that as B of A was considered too big to fail I would do what I could to make it smaller. A few hundred thousand similar actions might make a difference.

  • Harvest on January 05, 2012 10:30 AM:

    This wasn't just any old recess appointment. It was made absolutely necessary to stop the Republicans from nullifying a duly-enacted law. They lost the fight over the existence of the consumer financial protection agency fair and square, so they had to cheat in order to get their way and stop it from operating. It's similar to how Republicans can't win elections without supressing the vote. If the political process worked as it should, they'd almost always be on the losing side.

    Obama should have done this a long time ago, and should now go on a recess appointment spree a la Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, who shamelessly made many hundreds of them without regard to process or policy (before yesterday, Obama's total was under 30).

  • RalfW on January 05, 2012 11:15 AM:

    And Warren running for Senate pays off again! D'ya think Brown would buck his caucus if he weren't in a fight to keep his lame-@ss career?

  • cmdicely on January 05, 2012 11:16 AM:

    This is similar to the lapse in the ACA legislation, in which the standard severability clause was omitted, allowing the entire statute to be undermined if just one clause (such as the individual mandate) were found unconstitutional.

    Actually, the courts have generally found little if any weight to standard, blanket severability clauses, tending only to treat severability clauses that are specific as to which provisions are severable as having weight. (This is because the only thing a severability clause does is provide evidence of whether the legislative body in question would have passed the remainder of the law without the struck-down provision, and a blanket, non-specific severability clause doesn't do that, but one which particularly calls out specific provisions as severable does, provided that the specific provision is exactly what is struck down.

    And I don't think it necessarily was an "oversight" that a severability clause was omitted from the ACA, particularly in regard to the individual mandate. I think many supporters of the bill viewed the individual mandate as essential.

  • chi res on January 05, 2012 12:14 PM:

    Right on, PQuincy.

    Btw, whatever happened to the "low- and" part of "Democrats are fighting for low- and middle-class families"?

  • chi on January 05, 2012 12:17 PM:

    ObCAPTCHA rant: What I really love is that, if you make a mistake and then hit "Return to original entry", the comment you've just typed is lost forever.

    When you get that screen, hit your browser's "back" button instead, and it should take you back to your comment.

    craptcha: helpsei said I'm glad it helps!