Obama takes victory lap as Cordray is sworn in

President Obama and his newly sworn-in consumer watchdog took a victory lap at the White House on Wednesday after the Senate ended a two-year delay and voted to confirm Obama’s nominee.

Obama said the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was critical to helping cushion middle-class Americans from what he said was a “strain of irresponsibility [that] eventually came crashing down on all of us” during the recession.

“This is not just some abstract theoretical exercise,” Obama said. “Families, many of them hard-pressed, have money in their pockets, maybe in some cases saved a home or were able to send their kids to college, because of the work Rich and his team are doing right now.”

Cordray has been leading the agency since January 2012, when Obama installed him through a recess appointment, as his confirmation was held up amid years of wrangling in the Senate over the agency itself. Republicans had wanted the CFPB to be run by a five-member commission rather than a single director, and they vowed to block any director nominee until structural changes were made.

But a Senate deal Tuesday to avert a showdown over Senate rules that allow a minority filibuster to block presidential appointees paved the way for Cordray’s confirmation, which came late Tuesday in a 66 to 34 vote.

In his remarks, Obama castigated Senate Republicans for blocking a vote on Cordray, noting that he first nominated the then-Ohio attorney general two years ago this week.

“He was eminently qualified, he had the support of Democrats and Republicans from across the country, a majority of state attorneys general from both parties called on him to be confirmed, and for two years Republicans in the Senate refused to give Rich a simple up or down vote,” Obama said.

Cordray delivered brief remarks after Obama’s speech, thanking senators “for the chance to persevere and be confirmed.”

“All I ever asked for, all I ever worked for, was a chance to have an up-or-down vote on the merits,” Cordray said.

Cordray was sworn in by Vice President Biden shortly before Wednesday morning’s event at the White House’s State Dining Room.

Obama singled out Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for praise, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for brokering Tuesday’s deal to allow the vote on Cordray’s nomination.

The president also praised Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), an early and prominent advocate for creating the CFPB in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse. Warren sat in the front row for Wednesday’s event, next to senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.  Obama credited her with “poking and prodding people for a long time to help make it happen” and, following his speech, gave Warren a kiss on the cheek.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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