In a defiant start to the election year, President Obama today used his executive authority to bypass Senate Republicans and appoint Richard Cordray to serve as the nation's top consumer watchdog.
"Without a director in place, the consumer watchdog agency that we've set up doesn't have all the tools it needs to protect consumers against dishonest mortgage brokers or payday lenders and debt collectors who are taking advantage of consumers. And that's inexcusable. It's wrong, " Obama said in Ohio today with Cordray at his side.
Obama nominated Cordray for the position last summer, but Senate Republicans have held up his appointment to force structural changes to the agency. Today the president said he refused to take "no" for an answer and appointed Cordray to serve as the first director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while the Senate is in brief recess.
"The only reason Republicans in the Senate have blocked Richard is because they don't agree with the law setting up the consumer watchdog. They want to weaken it. Well that makes no sense at all. Does anyone think the reason we got in such a financial mess was because of too much oversight? Of course not," Obama said.
The president cast his move to install Cordray as another step he is taking to protect the interests of the middle class.
"I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve. Not when so much is at stake," Obama said.
To prevent Obama from making the appointment, the Senate has been in "pro forma" sessions - gaveling in and out a few seconds later - every few days in order to claim they are not in recess. Calling the move a "gimmick," the White House determined the president had the legal authority to install Cordray because the Senate has effectively been in recess for weeks. As expected, the move infuriated Republicans who called it "unprecedented" and "arrogant."
Not surprisingly, the move has been welcomed by Democrats and Consumer Groups. "Nice call. It's good," Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, told ABC News in Ohio, where Cordray previously served as attorney general. "Why should the American people have to wait any longer for someone to get this consumer agency up and running? And the fact that Congress didn't act, that's a problem."
Before delivering his remarks at Shaker Heights High School, Obama visited the home of Endia and William Eason in Cleveland to illustrate why Americans need "someone who will stand up for them," like Cordray.
The Easons almost lost their home and were left $80,000 in debt after falling victim to predatory lending by a mortgage broker.
"It's a good example of the kinds of trickery and abuse in the non-bank financial sector that we're going to have to do something about," Obama said as he sat at their dining room table.
Earlier in the day, Cordray told reporters that his first order of business will be to "begin working to expand our program to non-banks, which is an area we haven't been able to touch up until now."
Just hours after the president announced the Cordray nomination, the president used the same tactic to make three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency tasked with enforcing labor law.
Senate Republicans had vowed to block Obama from making any further appointments to the NLRB, which they claim is anti-business and tilted in favor of unions. The president named former Labor Department official Sharon Block, current NLRB Chief Counsel Terence Flynn and union lawyer Richard Griffin to serve on the board.
As expected, Republicans strongly opposed the appointments. "Just hours after he circumvented the American people by 'recess' appointing Richard Cordray to the CFPB, the president has upped the ante by making several additional recess appointments, this time to the NLRB. Although all of these appointments potentially raise legal and constitutional questions, the NLRB appointments are particularly egregious," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a written statement.
"What the president did today sets a terrible precedent that could allow any future president to completely cut the Senate out of the confirmation process, appointing his nominees immediately after sending their names up to Congress. This was surely not what the framers had in mind when they required the president to seek the advice and consent of the Senate in making appointments," he said.
The president's actions, which could energize union support as he heads into the 2012 election, are yet another sign that he is determined to circumvent Republican opposition when possible to accomplish his agenda to boost the economy.