Is Richard Cordray the New Elizabeth Warren?


Such forceful attacks on the banking industry won Warren the fierce enmity of those same Wall Street CEOs, as well as leading Republicans who took the extraordinary step of preventing Congress from going into recess for nearly an entire year to prevent Obama from tapping Warren to become the bureau's first permanent director.

Republicans' anger at Warren bubbled over in May, when Rep. Patrick McHenry (R – NC) accused Warren of lying to Congress.

Obama avoided what could have been a political meltdown by passing Warren over and nominating Cordray instead. Even though both Warren and Cordray made their reputations by fighting for consumers and against banks, Cordray remains far less-known and less controversial than Warren.

And unlike Warren, Cordray enjoys support from Republicans (at least among those who know him).

"We have all worked with Mr. Cordray during his career in Ohio and have the highest regard for his ability to partner and collaborate on the most important issues facing our community," four top Ohio business leaders, who usually support Republicans, wrote in a letter of support for Cordray in July.

Regardless of his skills and bipartisan connections, Cordray still might not prevail. Even if Cordray is a compromise candidate, many observers believe he won't be able to surmount the will of 44 Republican senators, who wrote a letter to President Obama in May saying they wouldn't support anyone to lead the new bureau until Obama agrees to make major changes to the bureau's structure and budget.

"Mr. Cordray's nomination is dead on arrival," Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the banking committee, wrote in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

Inside Ohio, it's hard to find anyone with a better political pedigree, or a more tortured career path, than Richard Cordray. Widely viewed as a wunderkind early in his career, Cordray struggled through a decade of losing campaigns before finally finding his footing as a champion for taxpayers and consumers. Eventually he won the support of both Democrats and Republicans, a rare feat in today's highly partisan political climate.

"Rich and I didn't agree on a number of policy issues," says Betty Montgomery, a longtime Republican officeholder in Ohio whom Cordray challenged unsuccessfully for attorney general in 1998. "But all that aside, I think he is an honest broker for his position, and he works hard at any job he has. You can't really think poorly of him."

Democrats believe that opposition to Cordray is a cynical move by Republicans eager to thwart President Obama's agenda.

"There is no legitimate reason for not confirming Rich Cordray other than raw politics," Ted Strickland, who served as Ohio's governor from 2007 through this year, said in a recent interview.

Cordray was born in Grove City, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, in 1959. He attended public schools, and worked at McDonald's for minimum wage. After graduating as co-valedictorian, he accumulated a long list of academic achievements, including graduating summa cum laude from Michigan State, first-class honours in economics from Oxford University, and editing the prestigious law journal at the University of Chicago Law School.

"I don't remember that many students, but he really stood out," says Richard Posner, a legal scholar and a judge on the federal Seventh Circuit Appeals Court, who taught Cordray at the University of Chicago.

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