Obama Recess-Appoints Richard Cordray to Head CFPB, GOP (P)outraged


President Obama will appoint former Ohio Atty. Gen. Richard Cordray on Wednesday to be the first director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, making a controversial decision to install Cordray while the Senate is in brief recess to avoid Republican opposition, according to a White House official.

And although that paragraph is “just the facts,” kudos as well to the LAT for getting the backstory right and not trying to soft-pedal it or shoot for false equivalence in an attempt to provide “balance”:

By refusing to allow Congress to adjourn, Republicans have been able to prevent recess — and recess appointments. The Senate and House have met every few days in pro forma sessions that last a matter of minutes.

Democrats, under Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, used the same strategy on occasion when President George W. Bush was in power.

But the Republicans have used the strategy throughout 2011 as the procedural arms race has escalated in the face of GOP opposition.

(emphasis added)

That’s exactly right: the GOP has escalated the procedural war(s) in both houses of congress – but particularly the Senate, which is more susceptible to such procedural abuses of power by the minority. This will be – in fact, already IS being – portrayed by the GOP as an unprecedented abuse of power, yada yada yada…you can almost write the half-whiny, half-fulminating script yourself. The important things here are two: 1) it is the GOP which has broken every vow, gone back on every “gentleman’s agreement,” stretched every rule to (and sometimes past) the breaking point in an effort to deny this President any victories (and ultimately to deny him a second term), and 2) on this issue, Obama did not bend. He did not cave. He did not give in to either GOP pressure, fear of not being “bipartisan” enough, or centrist-leaning, pro-banker aides’ advice to “let the (Wall St.) wookie win.”

I could probably waste a lot of time trying to guess what combination of circumstances motivated Obama to do exactly the right thing in this case: it could be because it was the right thing to do. It could be because he felt heat from progressive groups. It could be because it’s now campaign season and he’s switched back to “stump Obama” and away from “bipartisanship-seeking, conciliator-in-chief Obama.” I have no doubt that in some corners of the Internet, Obama’s decision today is already being portrayed as yet another glorious, planned-in-advance, perfectly-executed example of eleventy-dimensional chess. Any combination of those things might be the real story. But none of it matters much at this point, primarily because we’ll likely never really know what the reasons were (at least not until memoirs-time, years in the future, and possibly not even then).

But even though the political junkie in me would LOVE to know what the real combination of reasons or forces which compelled this particular decision were, and even though I think knowing would help many political observers get a better handle on how this White House operates, even THAT doesn’t change my opinion that it wouldn’t matter all that much if we knew. At least, not in comparison to the simple fact that the (obviously in-the-works for a while) decision to recess appoint Richard Cordray stands as a shining example of this administration choosing to utilize the full tools available to it in the service of the American people against powerful special interests (and the opposition party), instead of inexplicably leaving some tools available to the executive unused or cutting a premature deal that relied even in part upon the good faith of an opposition party clearly unmoored from not just restraint and ethics, but seemingly reality at times, as well.

Because although nothing is certain and no one can see the future clearly, this is the most hopeful signal we’ve had in a long time from this President that he understands the nature and MO of the forces arrayed against him as well as the realistic options he has available to him to make as much genuine progress for Americans as possible. And it is also a very hopeful signal from the President that he both wants and intends to do many of them. I seem to remember this guy from 2007-8. Only back then, he was just talking a good game about a lot of this stuff. The intervening three years have been a mixed bag in terms of both Obama’s willingness and his ability to deliver on them. Today, he’s talking about them again, but this time after having taken a giant, concrete step forward in DOING them.

Congratulations again, Mr. President, and thank you for doing the right thing when you had the ability to do so.

8 thoughts on “Obama Recess-Appoints Richard Cordray to Head CFPB, GOP (P)outraged

  1. I agree, it’s the most hopeful I’ve been about this man since… before the health care debate. Cautious optimism.

  2. I agree, this is the most hopeful I’ve been about this man since… before the health care debate. Cautious optimism.

  3. This has been needed for quite some time. Perhaps, it would’ve been a different story if the GOP had substantive reasons for blocking the confirmation but it was just to obstruct something Obama wanted. I think this needs to another issue to place on voters’s plates in the coming year…Why did the gop keep an agency designed to benefit the average, everyday consumer from operating at capacity by not approving its director? Is this just one more example of blocking help for the middle class?

    I’d say this could easily be framed that way.

    Nice post…thanks!

    1. I agree, this should be used as a rhetorical club with which to beat the eventual GOP nominee (as well as all the individual GOP Reps and Senators who’re also up for election this fall). I hope the White House won’t fail to use it as a powerful tool. Given today’s actions, it seems likely they won’t fail to do so. That’s all to the good.

      As far as the reasons why the GOP did this? Who knows. I have honestly found it harder and harder to understand some of their reasoning lately. Of course you’re right that they really REALLY want to deny Obama any victories at all. But when you see the spectacle (which we’ve seen several times now) of Republicans switching positions to oppose a bill or an idea that they themselves (individual Republicans) not just supported but in many cases championed and even co-sponsored in the recent past, just because Obama said he was in favor of it? That’s some serious cutting-off-one’s-nose-to-spite-one’s-face, right there. That’s why I say it’s gotten harder to understand what, if any, rationale(s) the GOP has for an increasing number of their positions lately.

      However, if I had to guess, I don’t think I’d say the GOP actually wants to hurt the middle class. They’re painfully aware that a party which is dedicated to the preservation of the privileges of the wealthy has a hard time winning elections because the wealthy are such a small slice of the electorate. They know they have to either support or bamboozle enough of the non-wealthy to win on election day. That’s been the animating force behind all sorts of sleazy GOP tricks like inventing phrases such as “death tax” (to convince regular people that a tax aimed exclusively at the rich was actually going to tax ordinary people’s kids after the parent was dead or something equally stupid). But outright opposition to policies which clearly benefit the middle class (instead of trying to pretend they DON’T benefit the middle class) isn’t something I’d think even today’s GOP would think was a good idea.

      Instead, I’d say the reasons are probably a combination of the “denying Obama victories” angle coupled with the fact that the GOP is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street (and in fact corporate America in general). Wall Street is lobbying fiercely for Republicans to kill this agency (not just to oppose Cordray specifically). Even so, I don’t think Republicans are actively out to HURT the middle class. Like I said, they need some of those votes. I think if enough Republicans thought that killing the CFPB would hurt the middle class, they might not be so gung-ho about doing Wall Street’s bidding on this issue. But – sadly – I think many if not most of our GOP representatives are not all that well-versed in what the CFPB would actually do to benefit consumers. They only hear farcical bankers’ talking points about why the CFPB is bad…and so they believe them, because they don’t get advice to the contrary (and most are not economists themselves).

      All of that (Obama hate, GOP kowtowing to bankers, and no awareness that killing the CFPB would actually hurt Americans) leads to a belief on the part of congressional Republicans that they if they could somehow procedurally strangle the CFPB before it even got truly off the ground, they could prevent the general public from caring about it. Right now, the term CFPB means approximately squat to most voters. They just don’t follow politics that closely. But Wall Street knows if the CFPB is allowed to function fully even for a relatively short period of time, there are going to be anecdotal stories of the good it does which are both so widespread and so compelling that they (the GOP) would never be able to get rid of it once word leaked out into the general public consciousness. That’s why Wall St. opposes it so fiercely, and – I think – why the GOP strategy centers around trying to strangle an already-approved-by-law consumer protection agency.

      1. Hi Lars! And as I jump in, I’ll start by saying: happy new year!

        From what I’ve read and heard, the R’s in this case were blocking the nomination not simply to gum up the works, like they’ve been doing in general, but specifically because they wanted changes made to the agency BEFORE it actually got into full gear with a Director. More hostage-taking, in order to water down and weaken the agency.

        BTW: Obama will or has recess-appointed three new members to the National Labor Relations Board, in addition to the Cordray appointment.

        Here’s what I find most interesting. Obama could have appointed these folks in the moments between the the two sessions of Congress. As I understand it, that would have been the easier and less confrontational way of doing it, because that precedent has already been set by prior presidents, however; such appointments would only last one year. By waiting until this session of Congress started, his appointments will last longer. In the case of Cordray, two years instead of one. But it’s the confrontational part that I find interesting (and encouraging). Obama knew the R’s would make a big fat stink about this and he chose that fight, rather than take the easy out.

        Perhaps Obama finally figured out that he was the one giving the R’s the honeymoon they never gave him.

  4. Hey, Dale! Happy New Year to you, too!

    My understanding is the same as yours. When I wrote this post, I hadn’t heard all the details of it quite yet, such as the fact that it was done in THIS term (instead of between them, as most people were expecting it was going to be done – if it was done at all). The one caveat to what you said is that the Cordray (and NLRB) nominations that Obama recess-appointed yesterday will get an extra year than they would’ve if he’d done it between congressional sessions only assuming that Obama wins a second term.

    To be sure, that’s looking increasingly likely (especially with moves like the ones he made yesterday)…but it’s still something of a gamble. However, one totally worth taking, since there’s really no downside to it. All in all, a heck of a day yesterday for the President.

  5. Correct on the caveat.

    I think the two years is pretty likely as I really don’t see how any of the Republican presidential contenders can compete with Obama. Most are lightweight nutbags too far right of center to win the general. (Has there ever been a more pathetic and under-qualified set of losers in modern history?) The R base has no passion for Mit, and as such he’s being moved to the right by the base which puts him between a rock and a hard place for the general: does he flip flop again and get nailed for it, or stick to his new ultra-conservative meme and get nailed for it? 🙂

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