WASHINGTON — In a defiant display of executive power, President Barack Obama today will buck GOP opposition and name Richard Cordray as the nation’s chief consumer watchdog even though the Senate contends the move is inappropriate, senior administration officials told The Associated Press.
With a director in place, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be able to start overseeing the mortgage companies, payday lenders, debt collectors and other financial companies often blamed for practices that helped tank the economy.
Obama’s decision to make a recess appointment is certain to cause an uproar from Capitol Hill to Wall Street. He is essentially declaring the Senate’s short off-and-on legislative sessions a sham intended to block his appointments.
The White House is expecting considerable criticism and perhaps a court challenge, but says Obama was left with little choice to get the consumer agency fully running after months of stalemate.
Acting right after Tuesday’s GOP presidential caucuses in Iowa, Obama is seeking to grab attention and show voters that he will advocate for the middle class no matter what the opposition. It is his most bare-knuckle initiative so far in his campaign of taking action without waiting for Congress.
Obama planned to announce his decision later Wednesday during an economic event in Cordray’s home state of Ohio, with Cordray along with him.
Cordray would take over the job later in the week and stand to serve for at least the next two years, covering the length of the Senate’s session.
Administration officials spoke to the AP about the news on condition of anonymity because Obama had not announced the appointment.
Republicans in the Senate have blocked Cordray. Obama planned to say that every day Cordray waited for confirmation, millions of Americans remained unprotected from dishonest financial practices, according to prepared remarks obtained by the AP.
“That’s inexcusable,” Obama says in the remarks. “And I refuse to take ‘No’ for an answer. I’ve said before that I will continue to look for every opportunity to work with Congress to move this country forward. But when Congress refuses to act in a way that hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them.”
More than a standoff over one significant appointment, the fight speaks to the heart of presidential campaign under way. Presiding over a troubled but improving economy, Obama’s must persuade a weary middle class that he is their champion, all while fending off fire from Republicans challengers and lawmakers.
To get Cordray into the job, Obama is essentially dictating to Senate what constitutes a legitimate legislative session.
Obama has constitutional power to make appointments during a congressional recess.
Expressly to keep that from happening, Republicans in the Senate have had the Senate running in “pro forma” sessions, meaning open for business in name with no actual business planned. Democrats started the practice when George W. Bush was president to halt him from making recess appointments.
The Senate held such a session on Tuesday and planned another one on Friday. Republicans contend Obama cannot make a recess appointment during a break of less than three days, based on years of practice.
Yet the Obama White House has determined that such an approach is a gimmick.
For all practical purposes, the Senate is in recess and Obama is free to make the appointment on his own, administration officials told the AP.
Since the practice of pro forma sessions began in earnest in 2007, never has a president made a recess appointment during such a session, officials said.
Wary that Obama might do so, Republican congressional aides began warning Tuesday that the president would be undermining the nation’s systems of checks and balances and overturning precedent — not to mention deepening his troubles with Republicans in a town defined by gridlock.
The president also was expected to announce other recess appointments on Wednesday.
Until now, he has made 28. Bush made more than 170 during his presidency. Bill Clinton made almost 140.
Republicans have had little opposition if any to the qualifications of Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general. Their objection is with the consumer agency itself, which they claim has too much power and too little transparency and accountability.
Obama and his team say lawmakers should try to revise the Wall Street oversight law if they don’t like it, not keep the agency from performing its job.
The White House attempted to rally public support for Cordray and push senators to support his nomination, but the effort failed. In December, Republicans kept Cordray’s nomination from coming to a vote. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown was the only Republican who voted in favor of halting the delay tactic.
Before his remarks at a high school in a Democratic suburb of Cleveland, Obama planned to meet with a family who got taken advantage of by a mortgage broker. He wants to use their story as an example of how the consumer agency can crack down on such practices.
Obama was traveling to the most Democratic congressional district in Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, a day after Mitt Romney won Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses by just eight votes. Obama’s trip signals the White House’s intent to keep the president in the public eye even as the political world focuses on the GOP’s selection process.
The White House’s choice of Ohio for Obama’s first presidential trip of 2012 underscores the state’s high-profile role in presidential politics. It is a swing state that went for George W. Bush in 2004 and for Obama in 2008.