All those folks — friend and foe, alike — who whined about President Obama neither showing leadership nor exercising his considerable executive power to help the American people in a time of economic crisis got a heaping dose of his leadership and power yesterday. The recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a direct challenge to obstructionist Senate Republicans. Sure, some think the president is on questionable legal ground here that almost certainly will lead to legal challenges. But this is a fight worth having.
I look forward to the legal fight over Obama’s recess move. The constitutional questions are many and need to be settled. What’s not at issue is the political bang the president will get for bucking congressional Republicans. It’s the payroll tax cut debate all over again. Because the CFPB is prohibited from regulating nonbank entities, such as payday lenders, until a permanent leader is in place, Obama gets to look like the champion of the middle-class while the GOP looks obstructionist. That the president chose to make the announcement in Ohio, Cordray’s home state and a pivotal swing state in Obama’s reelection chances, was the most explicit demonstration yet that the more confrontational president we’ve seen since his joint session of Congress speech on Sept. 8 is here to stay. Good.
Let’s be real, we all know the Senate isn’t really open for business and won’t be until Jan. 23. These “pro forma” sessions are clever parliamentary moves to keep the president from getting what he wants. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did it to President George W. Bush. But, as a Wall Street Journal editorial today notes, some Bush advisers urged him to take the same step Obama did yesterday. Bush opted not to.
And it’s not as if Cordray is controversial, unqualified or lacking in support. The only reason the former Ohio attorney general wasn’t confirmed by the Senate was because his nomination couldn’t meet the crazy procedural 60-vote threshold now required to do anything in the world’s most deliberative (and gridlocked) body. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who openly declared that his No. 1 job was to ensure the president’s reelection defeat this November, blasted Cordray’s recess appointment, saying Obama “has arrogantly circumvented the American people.” Only in the Senate would the appointment of a nominee who got 53 out of 98 votes qualify as arrogant circumvention.