“I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve,” Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at Shaker Heights High School here. “Not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans.”
Senate Republicans had successfully filibustered Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) last month, and Obama said he would use a recess appointment to overcome their objections and put Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, in the job. Cordray, 52, has been leading the day-to-day functions of the bureau as an employee of the Treasury Department.
In announcing the decision, Obama said he refused “to take no for an answer” and added that he has an obligation to act when Congress does not.
The appointment marks both the escalation and the denouement of one of the most contentious fights in Washington since Obama, in July 2010, signed into law the legislation establishing the watchdog agency.
Obama’s initial choice to head the bureau was Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who had been championed by liberals and who had spent the better part of a year setting up the agency.
But just as the agency was preparing to open its doors in July, the White House opted not to nominate Warren — who had been strongly opposed by Republicans — and instead tapped Cordray for the job. Warren has since announced a bid for the Senate seat held by Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who shifted on the issue in a statement Wednesday, saying that he backed Obama’s move.
The political debate over Obama’s appointment of Cordray hinges on the question of how long a legislative recess is necessary for a president to be able to install a nominee without Senate approval.
Republicans argue that precedent, over the past two decades, has been that no president can make such an appointment during a recess of less than 10 days.
Democrats contend that according to that standard, Republicans’ move to hold “pro forma” sessions every three days while both chambers are on a longer recess would effectively block the White House from ever making a recess appointment. Such sessions are “a sham,” Democrats and the White House argue – even though Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) used the same tactic to block President George W. Bush from making recess appointments in 2007 and 2008.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly say how much time is needed for a recess appointment to be made.
The White House also announced Wednesday that the president would appoint three of his blocked nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. Obama will use the Senate recess period to appoint Sharon Block, Richard Griffin and Terence F. Flynn to the NLRB. The appointments have been held up by a partisan fight over the role of government regulation and the right of workers to unionize.