Shaker Heights, Ohio Defying Republican lawmakers, President Barack Obama on Wednesday barreled by the Senate and installed a national consumer watchdog on his own, provoking GOP threats of a constitutional showdown in the courts. Setting a fierce tone in the election-year fight for middle-class voters, Obama said: “I refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Obama named Richard Cordray, a respected former attorney general of Ohio, to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after giving up on hopes for a confirmation vote in the Senate. The appointment means the agency is able to oversee a vast swath of lending companies and others accused at times of preying on consumers with shady practices.
In political terms, Obama’s move was unapologetically brazen, the equivalent of a haymaker at Republicans in the Senate who had blocked his nominee. Acting right after Tuesday’s presidential caucuses in Iowa, which showered attention on his opponents, Obama sought to make a splash as the one fighting for the rights of the little guy.
Presidents of both parties long have gotten around a stalled confirmation by naming a nominee to a job when the Senate is on a break through a process known as a recess appointment.
But Obama went further by squeezing in his appointment during a break between rapid Senate sessions this week, an unusual move that the GOP called an arrogant power grab.
The White House said what the Senate was doing — gaveling in and out of session every few days solely to avoid being in recess — was a sham. Obama’s aides said the president would not be stopped by a legislative gimmick, even though it was Senate Democrats who began the practice to halt President George W. Bush’s appointments.
“When Congress refuses to act, and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them,” Obama said from Ohio, a state vital to Obama’s re-election bid.
Consumer groups hailed Obama’s decision; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce balked and warned it was so legally shaky that the consumer bureau’s work may be compromised.
The response from Republicans was blistering.