Senate Republicans made good on their threat to block President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today if changes are not made to the way the agency is designed to operate.
The nomination of Richard Cordray was blocked on a 53-45 vote, short of the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster. Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) was the only Republican to vote with Democrats and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted present, citing a potential conflict of interest because her husband works in the financial services industry.
Shortly after the vote, Obama went to the White House briefing room to warn the Senate that he will continue to press for Cordray’s confirmation.
“I just want to send a message to the Senate. We are not giving up on this,” Obama said. He added, “We’re going to keep pushing on this issue.”
Asked whether he would attempt to use his recess appointment powers to install Cordray, Obama said he would not take any options off the table.
It’s unclear if Obama will be given an opportunity to recess appoint Cordray. This year, Republicans have not allowed the Senate to adjourn in order to guard against the possibility of recess appointments.
With an eye toward the 2012 election, Democrats have been working to cast themselves as the party whose policies support the middle class and sought to portray Republicans’ opposition to Cordray as anti-consumer.
“Without a director, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau doesn’t have the tools it needs to get the job done,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “Republicans, in spite of that, would leave consumers without a watchdog to guard against the greed of Wall Street.”
After the vote, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y), chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center, said the majority will continue to push to appoint a CFPB director.
“We are going to keep at it in whatever way we can,” Schumer said. “I hope the president uses whatever tools are legally at his disposal.”
The White House has also embarked on a media blitz in seven states pushing for Cordray’s nomination.
Senate Republicans dismissed Democratic anti-consumer claims as cheap political shots. Instead, they argued that their opposition was based on their concerns over the structure of the agency, not about Cordray’s qualifications.
“Republicans made our position clear more than seven months ago, when 44 of us signed a letter saying we won’t support a nominee for this bureau — regardless of who the president is — until three commonsense conditions are met that would bring some transparency and accountability to the CFPB,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday on the Senate floor.
The three criteria include replacing the single director with a board. The GOP contend that the director has too much power. They prefer a board to run the CFPB, like the five-member board that runs the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Republicans also cite their concern that the CFPB should be funded through the appropriations process, which would give Congress more input over the agency. Currently, CFPB is funded through the Federal Reserve System.
Finally, they want to allow other financial regulators to provide a check on CFPB rules so they don’t imperil the health of financial institutions and lead to unnecessary bank failures.
“The president knew about these concerns months ago, and he chose to dismiss them. And now he’s suddenly making a push to confirm his nominee — because it fits into some picture he wants to paint about who the good guys and the bad guys are in Washington,” McConnell said. “So once again, Democrats are using the Senate floor this week to stage a little political theater. They’re setting up a vote they know will fail so they can act shocked about it later.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.