Have Fun Storming The Castle! Obama Nominates Richard Cordray to Head CFPB

President Obama has apparently nominated Richard Cordray, the former Attorney General of Ohio. Here’s a pic:

It’s an interesting choice, for at least two reasons:

  1. Cordray appears to be very honest as well as a very tough customer – not at all the sort of guy who will rubber-stamp the actions of the banksters. In this article from last October’s Washington Independent (regarding the foreclosure fraud mess, which was just developing at that time), Cordray is very tough on, and unequivocal about, the problems and illegality of foreclosure fraud. Certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who’ll be a patsy for the big banks at the CFPB. What’s more…
  2. Cordray already works at the CFPB, and he was hand-picked by Elizabeth Warren herself for his current job (leading the enforcement arm of the newly-created CFPB). In other words, Cordray seems to have Warren’s full faith and confidence, and he has been one of her top deputies for more than half a year now. She’s had a chance to see him work close-up, as has the Obama administration. So far, so good.

However, (unfortunately), as I just got done posting below, I’m not sure how much this changes. The GOP, as I and many others have pointed out, has always been much more focused against the CFPB itself, rather than simply against whoever is picked to lead it. It’s true there’s no love lost between some of the current GOP and Warren, but unless the Obama administration were to nominate an outright flunky of the big banks, the GOP won’t be happy with (or in favor of) any nominee Obama chooses.

I’m going to assume the Obama administration knows that the GOP’s main objection is to the CFPB itself (as opposed to Warren herself). If so, that, in turn, leads me to speculate about a couple of things:

  1. Quid pro quo – Could it be that not nominating Warren specifically was part of a back-room deal to which Obama and the GOP agreed…but which the administration is trying to minimize the impact of by nominating someone just as strong as Warren – in fact, someone who has close ties to her? If so, that would beg the question of whether…
  2. The administration is (once again) being too clever by half …axing a Warren nomination was part of some back-room deal or was simply a case of Obama attempting to once again to split the difference by appearing to grab the “reasonable center” mantle in the contentious CFPB nomination battle (appearing “reasonable” by taking away the supposedly “loathed” Warren, but nominating someone just as strong as a way to appeal to all sides), the end result appears to be the same. By nominating someone who isn’t a patsy for the banks, Obama has all but ensured Cordray will not be confirmed by the Senate (absent some back-room deal). That, in turn, leads me to wonder whether…
  3. Head fake …the Obama administration, by nominating a strong regulator like Cordray, who has equally strong ties to Elizabeth Warren, is sending a sacrificial lamb up to a public slaughter in Senate confirmation hearings. This would be an incredibly cynical move on the administration’s part, and – to believe it – requires one to also believe that two of the administration’s goals are to A) get a much weaker, pro-bankster candidate eventually nominated, and to do so by B) sticking it to the progressive base while plausibly telling them: “See? We tried for a strong candidate with Rich Cordray, and he just wasn’t confirmable! What could we do? Squishy McJellyfish over here was the best candidate that could also win Senate confirmation.” If the administration all along had no intention of getting a strong regulator into the top slot at CFPB, then picking someone with close ties to Elizabeth Warren who, from all appearances, would be just as strong a consumer advocate as she would have been, and then publicly allowing his nomination to be scuttled, would be the best way to accomplish that. The ground would be softened, and the case that “this was the best we could do” would then be plausible in a way it wouldn’t have been if Obama had nominated a pro-bankster candidate immediately instead of Warren.

I see only two other possibilities, both of which I consider much less likely:

  1. Misread – the Obama administration really never did grasp that the GOP’s primary opposition was to the CFPB itself, much more than to whoever is leading it. Sure, they’d like a weaker candidate, but what they really want is to be able to gut the board itself. If that’s the case, then Obama just threw away the obvious choice to head the board (Warren, the CFPB’s creator and the person who oversaw its implementation) and got nothing in return (because the GOP won’t be confirming Cordray either).
  2. Warren was asked, but declined – it’s possible (though I have a hard time imagining the circumstances which would lead to this) that Elizabeth Warren herself rejected the job. If so, then obviously the administration would have had to select a different candidate. The reason I find this hard to believe is partly that Elizabeth Warren is such a dedicated public servant that I find it bordering on impossible to believe that if the President of the United States went to her with a message of “your country needs you” that she would turn down his appeal. I also think she probably wanted to lead the board which was literally her own intellectual brainchild and creation. But it’s remotely possible, I suppose, that for some personal or professional reason, Warren wanted to pass the baton.

Only time will tell which of these possibilities (or another I haven’t thought of) is the case. If Cordray gets confirmed without too much of a fight in the Senate, then it lends credence to the idea that some sort of back-room deal we may never know the details of was struck. It would also lend credence to the notion that perhaps the sticking point really was actually the person of Elizabeth Warren herself — though I find this, as I’ve said repeatedly, HIGHLY unlikely. However, if Obama can get Cordray confirmed without having to bargain away something else of equal or greater value, I will be tickled. Ditto if Obama simply overrides the bankster-fellating GOP and simply recess-appoints Cordray. Either would be just fine with me; Cordray seems like a good strong consumer advocate; just the thing we need.

If Cordray’s nomination gets stiff-armed by the GOP and held up for months, it will lend credence to either the notion that the Obama administration was once again trying to be too clever by half, and wound up getting burned by a united, our-way-or-the-highway GOP that Obama has never quite seemed to believe was really all that nasty and obstructionist. Or it might mean that Obama’s advisers just truly mis-read the tea leaves and thought the problem really was Warren and not the CFPB itself (which would also be a loss, since if he can’t get anyone nominated through regular channels, then might as well recess-appoint the obvious, best choice – Warren).

Or, most disappointingly, if Cordray gets stiff-armed by the GOP, and after months of deadlock and a headless CFPB, Obama pulls Cordray’s nomination (or waits for Cordray to get frustrated, take the hint and withdraw his own name from consideration, a la Peter Diamond), and then the administration nominates someone else who’s much weaker and pro-bankster, then it will be almost certain that that’s what Obama intended all along.

Guess we’ll have to see how it plays out. But for now, I am disappointed in Obama for not recess-appointing Elizabeth Warren, but cheered by his decision to pick one of Warren’s top deputies, a man who appears every bit as pro-consumer as Warren herself. Congratulations to Richard Cordray, and good luck running the gauntlet. Or perhaps I should put it this way:

4 thoughts on “Have Fun Storming The Castle! Obama Nominates Richard Cordray to Head CFPB

  1. Another possibility: Warren is still the President’s advisor. If she remains the President’s advisor, then she is free to ‘run’ the agency without interferance from the R’s. So, perhaps the President did not toss Warren, he just took the focus off of her.

    1. If that turns out to be the case, I’ll cheer. But I don’t think it is. From everything I can tell, Warren is headed back to Harvard, and there’s already talk in insider Democratic circles of trying to get her to run for Senate in Massachusetts (to oppose Scott Brown, which I think is a terrible idea, but that’s a different story).

      1. Why do you think it would be a terrible idea to have Warren as a Senator? She’d be better than Brown, and a lot better than 90% of the whole lot, actually.

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