Obama Slams GOP For Blocking Consumer Nominee
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Senate Republicans today blocked confirmation of President Obama's nominee to lead a new financial watchdog agency. Less than an hour later, Mr. Obama stepped into the White House press room to announce that he is not giving up.
As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the president continues to sound out populist economic themes, with one eye on Congress and the other on next year's election.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Today's Senate vote was hardly a surprise. Republicans have been telegraphing for weeks they would not confirm the president's nominee to head the financial watchdog agency. But that didn't stop Mr. Obama from making his argument in a series of local TV interviews and with today's White House news conference. Even after the no votes were tallied, he continued to call for closer scrutiny of payday lenders, debt collectors and peddlers of high-risk mortgages.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I just want to send a message to the Senate. We are not giving up on this. We're going to keep going at it. We are not going to allow politics as usual on Capitol Hill to stand in the way of American consumers being protected.
HORSLEY: That message is aimed not only at senators but also at the wider voting public. By pressing his case all week, Mr. Obama is hoping to present himself as the champion of middle-class consumers, while painting Republicans as obstructionists who are doing the bidding of Wall Street.
OBAMA: I don't think there's any American out there who thinks that the reason we got into the big financial mess that we did was because of too much regulation of Wall Street or the financial services industry. I take it back. I'm sure there are some folks in the financial service industry who make that argument, although I'm not sure they make it with a straight face.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama hinted he might use a recess appointment to install a new financial watchdog over the objection of Senate Republicans. That is, if there's a holiday recess at all.
This summer, Republicans kept the Senate in session just to avoid such a presidential appointment. And Mr. Obama himself said lawmakers must tackle two other priorities - extending unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut - before they even think about leaving town for Christmas.
Mr. Obama told reporters he's willing to put his own family vacation in Hawaii on hold if necessary.
OBAMA: I know some of you might have been looking forward to a little sun and sand.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
OBAMA: But the bottom line is that we are going to stay here as long as it takes, to make sure that the American people's taxes don't go up on January 1st and to make sure that folks who desperately need unemployment insurance get that help.
HORSLEY: The president's handling of the economy is likely to be far and away the biggest issue in next year's election. But Republican rivals have also been critical of Mr. Obama's foreign policy. At a forum for Jewish voters in Washington yesterday, several Republican candidates accused the president of being tough on allies but timid towards adversaries, a posture Rick Santorum described as appeasement. Mr. Obama responded today in unusually blunt terms.
OBAMA: Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who've been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.
HORSLEY: Here at home, though, the administration has at times tried to appease its conservative critics. One example is this week's handling of the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected a proposal to make the morning-after pill available to girls 17 and younger without a prescription, even though scientists at the Food and Drug Administration said doing so would be safe and effective.
The Plan B decision was praised by conservative groups and roundly criticized by medical experts. Mr. Obama, who promised early on to base public policy on the soundest science, says he played no role in the secretary's decision, but he fully supports it.
OBAMA: I will say this as the father of two daughters: I think it is important for us to make sure that, you know, we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.
HORSLEY: Political analysts are already trying to calculate how the Plan B decision will play with women, conservative Catholics, and other voting blocks. Like just about every decision in Washington today, policy is being shaped, at least in part, by next year's election.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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