Obama to give Cordray a recess appointment

This is a big, bold move by the president, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

In a defiant display of executive power, President Barack Obama on Wednesday 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.

White House sources have confirmed that the AP’s report is accurate and that the recess appointment will be announced, almost certainly this afternoon when the president speaks on the economy in Cordray’s home state of Ohio.

Congressional Republicans hoped that by relying on pro-forma sessions, the White House would be unable to make recess appointments since there technically wouldn’t be a recess. But as we discussed a month ago, the White House is not required to honor the pro-forma sessions when considering recess appointments. Jonathan Bernstein and Ian Millhiser have written about this in some detail.

It’s worth noting that I’m generally not a fan of these kinds of recess appointments. My preference would be that presidential nominees face a fair Senate confirmation process, and the White House not circumvent the legislative branch for the sake of convenience.

But in this case, there’s only one sensible conclusion: Senate Republicans left Obama with no choice.

No one, not even the most unhinged Republicans, are questioning Cordray’s qualifications, and if the Senate were to vote on his nomination, it would be approved fairly easily.

But Republicans won’t allow that because they disapprove of the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The agency is already part of federal law, but GOP senators have said they will refuse to allow the agency to function or do any work unless Democrats agree to weaken the CFPB’s powers and lessen consumer protections.

This has no precedent in American history. The Senate has simply never blocked a qualified nominee solely because a minority of the chamber does not like the existence of the agency the nominee was selected to lead.

Republicans, in other words, have embraced a radical nullification strategy, as part of a larger effort to normalize extortion politics. In no uncertain terms, GOP leaders have said they’ll refuse to allow existing law to function until Democrats meet the Republicans’ demands and does Wall Street’s bidding. When the Senate minority is satisfied, they’ll consider allowing the law to proceed — if they feel like it.

Traditionally, if the Republicans wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it to committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and might not work. Instead, we see the latest in a series of hostage strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won’t allow the agency to meet its legal mandate.

And in this case, the bureau’s mandate involves protecting American consumers against possible abuses. Republicans don’t want Americans to have those protections, and would prefer to let the free market do as it will, no matter how often or how severe the public gets screwed.

The Republican tactics on this are nothing short of madness. I’m relieved President Obama has had enough.