When Scott Brown gets nervous

It’s been quite frustrating to watch Richard Cordray’s nomination to become the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau languish in the Senate. Republicans don’t question Cordray’s sterling qualifications, but have said they’ll stand united against any nominee until Democrats agree to weak the agency and make it easier for the financial industry to screw over consumers.

Yesterday, that united GOP front saw its first crack.

Senator Scott Brown today endorsed the nomination of Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, to lead the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — whose chief architect, Elizabeth Warren, is challenging Brown in his reelection bid next fall. […]

“The senator supports the Cordray nomination and believes it deserves an up or down vote on the Senate floor,” said John Donnelly, Brown’s spokesman.

Brown’s announcement today doesn’t necessarily advance the nomination. The bloc of 44 Republican senators [who’ve vowed to block a vote] would be enough to sustain a filibuster against the confirmation, and it is unclear whether any other GOP senators could be swayed to drop their opposition.

Warren, Brown’s presumed Democratic challenger, was a key architect in drafting the authority of the bureau. Cordray helped Warren set up the agency earlier this year.

The larger context makes all the difference here.

Brown has been a key Wall Street ally in the Senate, forcing the chamber to weaken several provisions of last year’s reform package, and being rewarded with generous campaign contributions from the financial industry.

The Massachusetts Republican, in other words, doesn’t seem like the type to break party ranks and announce opposition to a Republican filibuster against the CFPB nominee.

So, what prompted yesterday’s move? It’s not complicated — Elizabeth Warren is making Brown very nervous.

As for the larger nomination fight, it’s worth keeping in mind that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner recently told Senate Banking Committee, “If the Senate fails to confirm [Cordray], what will happen is it’ll leave a vast array of non-bank financial institutions … outside the scope of consumer protection, which was exactly the same mistake that left us so vulnerable to the financial crisis we went through.”

For Republicans, who’ve decided to take dictation from industry lobbyists, apparently that’s the idea.