Recess Appointment Puts Obama At Odds With GOP

President Obama used a recess appointment to name Richard Cordray head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Unlike similar appointments, the Senate hadn't technically recessed.

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President Obama's aides have said he will bypass his Republican critics in Congress this year. And yesterday, he did. He named Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The president made that appointment without the consent of the Senate. He did that through what's called a recess appointment, though unlike in similar occasions in the past, the Senate has not technically recessed. NPR's Tamara Keith explains.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Last month, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on Cordray's nomination. But for more than six months before that congressional Republicans have refused to allow the Senate to recess, because they didn't want to give the president the opportunity to make recess appointments. So, even though Congress has been home for a winter break since before Christmas, every few days, the House and Senate gavel in for a pro-forma session.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL POUNDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Senate will come to order.

KEITH: Yesterday's Senate session lasted a grand total of 40 seconds, plus or minus. The White House decided that just shouldn't count. John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, supports the president's move.

JOHN TAYLOR: He's saying, look, since I can't have the Senate take this very worthy, very experienced and very proven candidate to be director of the agency, I'll make the recess appointment.

KEITH: Consumer advocates like Taylor have long called on the president to push the issue, because without a director, the bureau has not been regulating non-bank institutions, including certain mortgage lenders and payday lenders.

TAYLOR: It's really sad that the American public has had to wait this long to have someone head an agency that was created because of all the malfeasant, terrible banking practices that destroyed the economy.

KEITH: The new director, Cordray, says he'll make supervising non-banks a top priority. But he'll do it in the face of outrage from Senate Republicans and their allies. The American Bankers Association says the president's move puts the bureau's future actions in Constitutional jeopardy. David Hirschman is with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

DAVID HIRSCHMAN: It does put a cloud over anything the new consumer bureau does.

KEITH: Hirschman agrees with Senate Republicans, that the bureau needs to be changed, made more accountable with a board instead of a single director and with Congress controlling its budget. Consumer advocates say this would take away the bureau's teeth. Hirschman says the president should've negotiated with Congressional Republicans rather than acting unilaterally.

HIRSCHMAN: This is bad news for both the bureau, which now has to worry about any decision it makes being challenged in the courts, and for other financial regulators who also have pending nominations that are less likely to get confirmed.

KEITH: Yesterday, the president also recess appointed three members of the National Labor Relations Board, generating more outrage. Norm Ornstein is with the American Enterprise Institute, and a seasoned Congressional watcher. He says the president is risking retaliation from Senate Republicans who could block all of his nominations, but perhaps that isn't such a big risk.

NORM ORNSTEIN: The fact is that there have been, not only dozens, but hundreds of nominees for court positions, executive branch positions, that have been blocked by filibusters or holds in the Senate.

KEITH: Ornstein says for two and a half years the president tried the conciliatory post partisan approach he promised in his campaign. That, he says, wasn't working, hence the new more combative relationship with Congress.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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