Two wrongs don’t make a right. But when one side in a philosophical argument decides to throw the first punch, it can’t cry foul when the other side punches back.
And that’s how we see the constitutional punches that were traded by Senate Republicans and President Barack Obama over the appointment of Richard Cordray as director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Obama nominated Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, to the position in August after it became clear that Senate Republicans would block his first choice, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. But Senate Republicans weren’t interested in confirming anyone for the job. They stated for the record that they would use the filibuster to block any appointee unless the law authorizing creation of the CFPB were rewritten.
There is a way for political parties to rewrite law — if they have the votes to do it. Not having the votes, Senate Republicans decided to use the power of the filibuster to hold Cordray’s confirmation hostage. They knew that if Cordray’s appointment came to the floor for an up or down vote it would pass.
Then the House, which is controlled by Republicans, did their part to try to block Cordray’s appointment by refusing to agree to a congressional recess. Though weeks passed with virtually no one in the Capitol, a handful of senators went through a ritual to keep Congress in session.
Breaking the log jam
Last week Obama called the pro forma sessions for the farce that they were and announced a recess appointment of Cordray. A fair reading would be that one abuse of power deserved another.
The bottom line is that legislation creating the consumer bureau was passed by Congress and signed by the president. It is legally required to have a director to fully function. And Cordray is eminently qualified to fill that role.
As attorney general, Cordray fought New York financial firms to recover lost Ohio pension funds and went after “foreclosure mills” that tried to cut corners in putting people on the street. In the Mahoning Valley he took an active role in protecting the community’s assets during the dismantling and sale of Forum Health.
The political jousting over his appointment is likely only the first chapter in a battle over who needs protection more, Wall Street and the banks or investors and consumers.