Obama cast the move as an effort to protect the interests of middle-class Americans who have suffered as a result of the Great Recession, which stemmed in part from abuses in the financial system.
“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.
Many decried the President’s move as setting a dangerous precedent for such appointments, but others applauded his efforts to overcome a divided Congress. As Susan Brooks Thistlewaite wrote:
Following his recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, President Obama also moved ahead to fill three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board. While congressional Republicans have chosen to block these appointments through filibusters, they are necessary to enforce regulations on labor and regulations that protect consumers.
There is a larger issue here than a president making appointments to fill vacancies. The issue is the deliberate and sustained obstructionism that has as its goal maintaining vacancies in key positions in government. One or another party may agree on disagree on what government should do, but keeping government dysfunctional is profoundly wrong.
Good government is the first responsibility of those elected to public office. If Congress won’t provide good government, it is up to the President to do so.
Conservatives are crying foul, but there is actually huge precedent for Republican presidents performing recess appointments. President Ronald Reagan made at least three times as many recess appointments each year as has President Obama. It was both legal and necessary for the president to make these recess appointments especially since Congress would not act.