Senate Republicans have made it no secret that they intend once again to kill the nomination of Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
But this time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Democratic colleagues must share some of the blame. They had a chance to take the loaded gun out of the hands of minority Republicans by adopting new rules for the filibuster, but they didn’t have the stomach for it.
A stellar performance
Tuesday Cordray appeared before the Senate Banking Committee and not one Republican could lay a glove on him in regard to how he has headed the bureau that was created as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
“I think you have done a wonderful job so far in carrying out your duties,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and one of the most conservative members of the Senate. But Coburn is one of 43 Republicans who sent a letter last month to President Barack Obama saying they would block an up-or-down vote on Cordray’s nomination unless the CFPB were “reformed” to their specifications.
Among the changes they’re demanding are a bipartisan board of directors to oversee the CFPB, more control over the bureau’s appropriations and a “safety-and-soundness check for the prudential regulators.”
In other words, they want to rewrite the legislation that established the CFPB — except that they don’t have the votes to do so. So rather than follow the legislative processes prescribed by the Constitution, these “conservatives” have glommed onto the Senate’s filibuster rule and will use their minority status to block Cordray’s confirmation and thus hamstring the CFPB.
Procedure trumps Constitution
The Constitution prescribes a very limited number of instances for which anything but a majority vote is needed in Congress, and the Senate’s responsibility to advise and consent to a presidential appointment is not one of them. The filibuster or cloture rule which now requires 60 votes to accomplish business in the Senate was once a rarely used devise. It has now become the norm, and its abuse should have been addressed by the majority Democrats when they had a chance, while setting Senate rules for the 113th Congress.
Richard Cordray is now paying the price for the Democrats’ abdication, but the American people will pay if Republicans block Cordray’s appointment or that of whomever Obama subsequently nominates when Cordray’s recess appointment to the job expires at the end of this year.
In an editorial last month, The New York Times listed just three of the accomplishments of the CFPB under Cordray thus far:
It called a halt to predatory practices by mortgage lenders, ensuring that borrowers are not saddled with loans they can’t afford and preventing brokers from earning higher commissions for higher interest rates.
It won an $85 million settlement from American Express, which it accused of deceptive and discriminatory marketing and billing practices.
It opened an investigation into questionable marketing practices by banks and credit card companies on college campuses, which often take place after undisclosed financial arrangements are made with universities.
We in Ohio and the Mahoning Valley are not surprised. As Ohio attorney general, Cordray earned a reputation for standing up for families facing foreclosure during the mortgage debacle and for seeking compensation for the state’s pension funds from rapacious banks and brokerage houses. In Youngstown, he took an active role in protecting the public interest during the Forum Health bankruptcy and the subsequent sale of Forum’s assets.
When Cordray failed to win confirmation in December 2011, it was the first time in Senate history that a party blocked a qualified candidate solely because some members disagreed with the existence of the lawful agency that the nominee had been named to head. That description isn’t partisan hyperbole; it was confirmed by the Senate historian. Such an unprecedented abuse should have been enough to embarrass every Senate Republican, but especially those who know Cordray as an intelligent, qualified and dedicated public servant. Among those would be Ohio’s junior senator, Republican Rob Portman.
On principle, Portman, Coburn and every other Republican who cannot articulate a reason for denying Cordray the appointment on his merits should prevail upon their colleagues to do the right thing and abandon what has become a perversion of the democratic process and an insult to the Constitution. We can only hope that a handful of Republicans have the guts to break ranks and do the right thing when the party’s leadership attempts to use the filibuster to block the floor vote that Cordray has earned through his performance.