Cordray Nominated To Lead Watchdog Agency

President Obama Monday nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to be the first director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau's architect is Elizabeth Warren, who was favored for the post by the left — but she's a lightening rod for the right. While the president ducked that fight with the GOP, it's far from clear that Cordray can win confirmation.

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Today, President Obama named Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau has been without an official leader since its creation a year ago. Cordray is currently head of enforcement at the bureau.

As NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, he was chosen after it became clear that the architect of the agency could not win Senate confirmation.

MARA LIASSON: Cordray is the former attorney general of Ohio and a well-known advocate for consumers against abuses by banks, credit card companies and other lenders. Today, President Obama appeared in the Rose Garden with Cordray, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and the woman the president chose not to appoint, Elizabeth Warren.

BARACK OBAMA: Long before the financial crisis, Elizabeth was sounding the alarm on predatory lending and the financial pressures on middle- class families. And in the years since, she's become perhaps the leading voice in our country on behalf of consumers. And let's face it; she's done it while facing some very tough opposition and drawing a fair amount of heat. Fortunately, she's very tough. And that's why I asked Elizabeth Warren to set up this new bureau.

LIASSON: But he didn't ask her to fill the job of the bureau's first director, partly because Republicans in the Senate have said they wouldn't vote for her confirmation. In fact, Republicans have said they wouldn't confirm anyone to head the agency unless the White House agreed to make substantial changes in its structure.

OBAMA: There is an army of lobbyists and lawyers right now working to water down the protections and the reforms that we passed. They've already spent tens of millions of dollars this year to try to weaken the laws that are designed to protect consumers. And they've got allies in Congress who are trying to undo the progress that we've made. We're not going to let that happen.

LIASSON: One year ago this week, the law creating the agency was approved by Congress despite Republican opposition. Today, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, reminded Mr. Obama that 44 Republicans - more than enough to sustain a filibuster - signed a letter saying they won't confirm anyone unless their demands are met.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Senate Republicans still aren't interested in approving any one to the position until the president agrees to make this massive new government bureaucracy more accountable and transparent to the American people.

LIASSON: The changes the GOP wants include replacing the agency's director with a board of directors and submitting the Consumer Financial Protection Agency's budget to the annual congressional appropriations process. So, if the White House won't agree to weaken the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency's powers and the Republicans won't confirm a director unless it does, it looks like the president is left with a standoff and the CFPB without a head.

For consumer advocates, like Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, this is a huge disappointment. If all the president was going to get was a big fight over Elizabeth Warren, Weissman says, the president shouldn't have ducked it.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: He should have been enthused about joining the fight with Republicans. If Republicans wanted to say, we want to stand up for Wall Street and we want to take on the most effective communicator about the need for sensible regulation of Wall Street and the big banks, he should have said be my guest.

LIASSON: But he didn't, and Weissman thinks he knows why. If Warren was a hero to progressives who helped collect hundreds of thousands of signatures supporting her for the job, Weissman says she was also a villain to the financial industry.

WEISSMAN: The reason that Elizabeth Warren was not appointed was because Wall Street and the big banks didn't want her to get the job, and the president decided he didn't want to take on the big banks. They do not want to be engaged in a high stakes confrontation with Wall Street right now.

LIASSON: As for Elizabeth Warren, her progressive fans are now collecting signatures to draft her for a Senate campaign in Massachusetts. They want her to run against Republican incumbent Scott Brown. Today, Warren said she's considering it.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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