The president started the new year off with some fireworks.
Defying Republican lawmakers, President Barack Obama on Wednesday barreled by the Senate and installed a national consumer watchdog on his own, provoking GOP threats of a constitutional showdown in the courts. Setting a fierce tone in the election-year fight for middle-class voters, Obama said: “I refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Obama named Richard Cordray, a respected former attorney general of Ohio, to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, after giving up on hopes for a confirmation vote in the Senate. The appointment means the agency is able to oversee a vast swath of lending companies and others accused at times of preying on consumers with shady practices.
In political terms, Obama’s move was unapologetically brazen, the equivalent of a haymaker at Republicans in the Senate who had blocked his nominee. Acting right after Tuesday’s presidential caucuses in Iowa, which showered attention on his opponents, Obama sought to make a splash as the one fighting for the rights of the little guy.
That set off howls from the usual suspects.
The top Senate Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Obama had “arrogantly circumvented the American people” and endangered the nation’s systems of checks and balances. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called it a “very grave decision by this heavy-handed, autocratic White House.”
And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said: “It’s clear the president would rather trample our system of separation of powers than work with Republicans to move the country forward. This action goes beyond the president’s authority, and I expect the courts will find the appointment to be illegitimate.”
Mitt Romney, a leading Republican presidential candidate, accused Obama of displaying “Chicago-style politics at its worst.”
There may be some legal wrangling over whether or not the Senate was in “recess.” No matter what, the best thing is that the CFPB is going to be up and running, defying the Republicans who were trying to nullify the very existence of the board by not allowing the confirmation of the director. (For the record, the Republicans had no problem with Mr. Cordray himself; they all said he was perfectly qualified to run the board. They just didn’t like the fact that the law was passed.) But now it forces the Republicans to explain why they’re against consumers being protected from predatory lenders and shady financial institutions.
It also is a reminder of all the times that the GOP screamed about “up or down votes” when it was their appointments and how they’ve used every trick in the book to block appointments by President Obama; it’s kind of fun to see them get a little of that back in their face for once.
In addition, the president also appointed new members to the National Labor Relations Board.
The move, which is arguably as important as the Cordray appointment, will ratchet up opposition from Republicans and make this an even bigger fight, since they have been attacking the NLRB regularly for its moves to streamline union elections and inform workers of their rights.
Obama is set to appoint Sharon Block, Terence Flynn, and Richard Griffin to the board — something unions have made a big priority for them in the new year. Senate Republicans have opposed the recess appointments to the NLRB on constitutional grounds, but unions charge that Republicans are only interested in rendering the agency inoperative.
The president has made it clear that his re-election campaign will be to run against Congress, not just whichever candidate the Republicans decide to finally come up with. And in doing that, Mr. Obama is going to have a rich field to plow, seeing as how the Republicans in Congress have made it their priority to basically shut down the government.
I can’t help but think that this was the plan all along: sucker the GOP into thinking they were going to be running against Uncle Fluffy who would compromise and cave just to have peace in the valley, and then drop this anvil on them just in time for the primaries and campaign.
To quote any number of people: “Game on.” There can’t be any let-up from here on out.