Obama taps Cordray to head CFPB in recess appointment

[Update 1: Adds comment from Obama] President Barack Obama named Richard Cordray Wednesday as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The appointment came as the Senate is in recess, though senators met briefly for a pro forma session Tuesday. The upper branch of Congress is not scheduled to fully reconvene until Jan. 23. Senate Republicans blocked the appointment of Cordray in early December, and said the pro forma sessions would prevent any recess appointments. Cordray, former Ohio attorney general, joined Obama on stage at a speech outside Cleveland. “There’s no question that Richard is the right person for the job,” Obama said. “When Congress refuses to act … then I have an obligation to do as president what I can without them.” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer announced the appointment Wednesday morning in a post on the White House blog. He called the pro forma sessions “a gimmick,” during which no actual business is conducted. The Constitution gives the president the power to fill vacancies during Senate recess with terms that expire at the end of the following Senate session. “But gimmicks do not override the president’s constitutional authority to make appointments to keep the government running,” Pfeiffer said. The Senate will meet in another pro forma session Friday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Obama “has arrogantly circumvented the American people” in appointing “an unaccountable czar.” The Cordray move, McConnell said, breaks precedent that presidents make recess appointments only when the Senate recesses for at least 10 days. “Congress has a constitutional duty to examine presidential nominees, a responsibility that serves as a check on executive power,” McConnell said in a statement. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and chair of the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement Cordray is “eminently qualified for the job.” “I look forward to working with Mr. Cordray and the CFPB as he moves forward on implementing long-overdue consumer financial protections for all Americans,” Johnson said. Consumer advocates applauded the recess appointment, including the Consumer Federation of America, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for Responsible Lending and the Woodstock Institute. With a director, the CFPB can exercise its full authority via the Dodd-Frank Act, including regulation over nonbank financial institutions. Senate Republicans want a five-member committee to lead the CFPB as well as a simple majority vote by an oversight council to veto bureau rules, rather than the current two-thirds vote. Anthony Sanders, a professor of finance at George Mason University, said regulatory agencies like the CFPB typically act with good intentions, but can lead to limits in credit availability. Obama also appointed three members to the National Labor Relations Board. He last made recess appointments in December 2010. Write to Andrew Scoggin. Follow him on Twitter @ascoggin.

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