Cordray has faced a long, rocky road in his efforts to serve as the agency's first director. Nominated for the job more than two years ago, Cordray was blocked by nearly every Republican in the Senate.
The lawmakers said they had no problems with Cordray himself, and some have even offered kind words for him in recent months but want to see major changes to the agency's structure. GOP lawmakers contend the bureau lacks accountability and want to give Congress and other regulators more say over its budget and regulatory power. In addition, Republicans wanted to replace Cordray's director position with a bipartisan commission.
Democrats have blanched at the idea of making any of those changes, arguing that Republicans simply want to weaken the bureau, which was broadly opposed by the right when Congress was writing the Dodd-Frank legislation that created it.
President Obama installed Cordray as director in January 2012 via a recess appointment that has since come under harsh scrutiny. A federal appeals court has already ruled that three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board made the same day were unconstitutional, and that case is now heading to the Supreme Court. Cordray's appointment is facing a separate legal challenge, which has yet to receive a verdict.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the architect behind the bureau who first tapped Cordray as a CFPB deputy when she was setting up the agency, hailed the vote as definitive proof that the agency has established itself.
"There's no doubt that the consumer agency will survive beyond the crib," she said following the vote. "David beat Goliath. We proved that real change is still possible in this country."
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), another staunch supporter of Cordray and the bureau, did warn that backers would need to remain on alert for future efforts from "Wall Street and its allies in Congress" to undermine the agency.
Now on the road to confirmation, Cordray will be able to serve a full five-year term as head of the agency. Under the contentious recess appointment, Cordray would wrap up his time on the job at the end of 2013 — assuming a court challenge didn't force him out first.
This post updated at 1:47pm.