President Obama raised quite a few eyebrows this morning when the White House announced a recess appointment for Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was an unusual display — congressional Republicans abused the rules and told the president to just accept it, and Obama effectively responded, “No.”

As it turns out, this more combative attitude goes beyond the CFPB. Greg Sargent has this scoop this afternoon.

Obama is also set to use recess appointments to install his picks to the National Labor Relations Board, according to White House officials and others familiar with ongoing discussions.

The move, which is arguably as important as the Cordray appointment, will ratchet up opposition from Republicans and make this an even bigger fight, since they have been attacking the NLRB regularly for its moves to streamline union elections and inform workers of their rights.

Obama is set to appoint Sharon Block, Terence Flynn, and Richard Grifin to the board — something unions have made a big priority for them in the new year.

Senate Republicans, true to form, have opposed all of these nominees for the usual reasons.

The larger context is hard to miss: President Obama is starting 2012 on a surprisingly aggressive foot. Republicans are accustomed to using obstructionism to simply tell the president how it’s going to be, and Obama, for quite a while, has tried to be accommodating, cooperative, and bipartisan.

But as this election year gets underway, it appears the president is turning over a new leaf. Indeed, I hardly recognize this combative, confrontational Obama, who seems comfortable antagonizing Republicans when they deserve it.

The risk, of course, is that GOP leaders will be even less prone to compromise, but since Republicans refuse to accept any concessions on any issue, the president very likely assumes — correctly — that he doesn’t have much to lose by flexing his procedural muscles a bit.

For that matter, there’s reason to believe the American mainstream, which has grown to hate Congress in ways we’ve never seen before, wants Obama to circumvent Capitol Hill to get things done, and has no use for GOP obstructionism.

If the White House keeps this up, 2012 will be quite a bit different than 2011.

Update: Travis Waldron notes that the last three Republican presidents also made recess appointments to the NLRB. Something to keep in mind when the GOP freaks out.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.