White House confident recess appointments were constitutional

President Obama is confident he had the authority to recess-appoint Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

Republican leaders blasted Cordray’s appointment as an “unprecedented” and potentially illegal power grab by the president, but Carney said the White House is “very confident” that the law is on their side.

At the same time, Carney added, "I don't want to anticipate legal challenges we haven't seen yet."

Business groups say legal challenges to the recess appointment could come swiftly, and an official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told The Hill a court fight over the appointment is a near certainty.  

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Obama broke with years of legal precedent by making the recess appointment while the Senate was holding brief pro forma sessions. Senate Democrats used the same tactic to block recess appointments from President George W. Bush.

The president also recess-appointed three members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a move that gives the agency a working quorum for 2012. 

Carney fired back on an attack made Thursday by Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, who accused Obama of packing the NLRB with "union stooges."

"There were three nominees — one of them was a Republican," the spokesman said. "I find it a little rich that on this and on the appointment of Richard Cordray ... that the former governor of Massachusetts decided to take a position in both cases against the security and protection of middle-class Americans."

Carney insisted Obama was not trying to be "deliberately provocative" with the recess appointments.

"He has worked cooperatively with Congress" since he took office, Carney said.

Obama felt an “absolute urgency” to install Cordray at the bureau, Carney said, adding that no one expects Washington to be a campfire where everyone sings “Kumbaya.”

Senate Republicans had warned Obama not to recess-appoint Cordray to the CFPB and had vowed to block his nomination until structural changes were made to the agency to make it more accountable.

Carney said Cordray’s nomination and the drive to change the bureau are separate issues. 

If Republicans want to change the law on the CFPB, "they can do it legislatively," he said.

This story was updated at 1:05 p.m.