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Updated: 7 p.m.
President Barack Obama jolted Republicans today with three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board — hours after he infuriated them by naming Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to bypass a filibuster.
Senate Republicans incensed by the NLRB’s decision to delay Boeing’s plan to build an airliner factory in the non-union state of South Carolina had preemptively warned Obama against making recess appointments to the agency. But, as with Cordray, Obama ignored them by installing not one, but three labor-friendly picks — Sharon Block, Terence F. Flynn and Richard Griffin.
“The American people deserve to have qualified public servants fighting for them every day — whether it is to enforce new consumer protections or uphold the rights of working Americans,” Obama said in a statement. “We can’t wait to act to strengthen the economy and restore security for our middle class and those trying to get in it, and that’s why I am proud to appoint these fine individuals to get to work for the American people.”
Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, applauded Obama for moving “to ensure that crucially important agencies protecting workers and consumers are not shut down by Republican obstructionism.”
The NLRB was set to be inoperative this year because it only had two members out of five board slots. A third board member, Craig Becker, was recess appointed by Obama in 2010, but his term has expired.
While Democrats applauded the move, Republicans were incensed at what they termed a power grab.
“Today, the White House doubled down on its assault on the Constitution’s separation of powers,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the NLRB appointments particularly egregious because two of the appointments, Block and Griffin, were sent to the Senate just two days before the chamber was scheduled to adjourn last month — bypassing confirmation hearings and the usual vetting by Senate committees.
“What the president did today sets a terrible precedent that could allow any future president to completely cut the Senate out of the confirmation process, appointing his nominees immediately after sending their names up to Congress,” McConnell said. “This was surely not what the framers had in mind.”
But it was Cordray’s nomination that Obama placed in the spotlight today.
At a campaign-style speech earlier in the day, Obama portrayed himself as the champion of consumers and the GOP as the defenders of Wall Street as he announced he would install Cordray as the director of the CFPB. Senate Republicans successfully filibustered Cordray’s nomination last month.
Obama said he wants an America where “everybody plays by the same rules,” and he took the GOP to task for blocking Cordray even as they acknowledged he was qualified for the job.
“When Congress refuses to act, and as a result hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them,” Obama said. “I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people we were elected to serve.”
Obama said that he still will look for “every possible opportunity” to work with Republicans and get things done — citing stalled pieces of his jobs package including funding for construction projects, teachers, cops, firefighters and small business tax cuts.
On Cordray, Obama said that for too long the financial system has been “stacked” against ordinary consumers with hidden fees and fine print.
By regulating financial institutions, Obama said, Cordray will help people “know before you owe” and protect them.
Both sets of appointments are a sign of a more combative Obama as he heads into an election year — and are a continuation of the tougher approach he has taken in recent months with the GOP.
Since last summer’s debt deal, Obama has chosen to wage an air war against the GOP rather than sitting down with them, and the approach bore some fruit in December when Republicans caved on the extension of payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits.