The action “threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress’s role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch,” McConnell said.
The move was in sharp contrast to Obama’s handling of the Warren nomination during the summer.
Then, as now, the Senate remained technically in session during holidays to block Obama from installing Warren without its approval, and the president chose not to force the issue. In the past several months, the president has changed tactics, electing to try to work around Congress rather than negotiate with Republican lawmakers.
Administration aides have said that Obama will try to draw contrasts between his efforts to stimulate the economy and what he argues is a Congress stuck in partisan gridlock.
In a rebuke to Republican leaders, the White House determined that it might make an unprecedented recess appointment even though the Senate remains in pro forma session. Obama is essentially declaring that session a gimmick designed to stymie the administration.
The Congressional Research Service says that the shortest recess during which a presidential appointment has been made in the past 20 years was 10 days. The appointee also could serve only until the next session of Congress; a confirmed director would serve for five years.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to oversee mortgage companies, payday lenders and debt collectors, among others. Obama pushed through the financial reform act during a fierce battle with Republican leaders, who have since vowed to dismantle it.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a co-author of the law, praised Obama’s move.
“Republicans’ complaints about the president’s decision to make this recess appointment are equivalent to objections leveled by arsonists at people who use the fire door to escape a burning building,” Frank said in a statement.
Senate Democrats defended the administration’s move Wednesday.
The chairman of the banking committee, Sen. Tim Johnson (S.D.), said in a statement that Cordray “is eminently qualified for the job, as even my Senate Republican colleagues have acknowledged.”
“It’s disappointing that Senate Republicans denied him an up-or-down vote, especially when it’s clear he had the support of a majority of the Senate,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), also on the banking committee, said: “American families deserve a cop on this beat — someone to keep the marketplace fair and protect against the financial scams and predatory schemes that have resulted in millions of Americans losing their homes and livelihoods. . . .
“Given the importance of ending predatory schemes aimed at working families across America, I am pleased that the president is appointing Richard Cordray and giving the American people a fully up-and-running Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”
Cordray attended the University of Chicago Law School and clerked for two moderate Supreme Court justices, Byron R. White and Anthony M. Kennedy.
He worked for more than a decade at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, a significant Democratic donor. During his two years as Ohio’s attorney general, he launched a number of high-profile lawsuits to recover money for injured investors. Well before a furor erupted over shoddy and fraudulent foreclosure paperwork at the nation’s major lenders, Cordray aggressively went after financial firms for such practices.
In rejecting Cordray’s appointment, Senate Republicans said they were challenging the structure of the agency’s oversight, which they argue should be handled by a five-member commission.
“Everyone agrees that he’s more than qualified,” Obama said of Cordray in his remarks. “The only reason Republicans in the Senate have blocked Richard is because they don’t agree with the law setting up the consumer watchdog in the first place. . . . Does anyone think the reason we got in such a financial mess was because of too much oversight? Of course not. We shouldn’t be weakening oversight and accountability. We should be strengthening it.”
Sonmez reported from Washington.