By Peter Schroeder - 05/19/11 02:27 PM EDT
By Peter Schroeder
House Democrats are urging President Obama to use a recess appointment to install Elizabeth Warren as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
They argue that strong opposition from Senate Republicans has forced the president’s hand, but GOP lawmakers say Obama has had ample opportunity to get someone nominated and confirmed.
Three Democratic House members are circulating a letter among colleagues asking them to back a Warren appointment by any means necessary.
“Please join us in sending a letter to President Obama requesting that he use every option available to him, including a recess appointment if necessary, to ensure that Ms. Warren is the CFPB’s first director,” the lawmakers wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Brad Miller (D-N.C.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) are behind the effort.
Warren is serving as an assistant to the president in charge of setting up the CFPB. While Warren serves as the de facto face of the fledgling bureau, the White House has yet to nominate a person to lead it, amid concerns Warren would face strong opposition from Republicans.
The push comes after nearly every Senate Republican agreed to block any nominee to the agency unless several changes are made to curb its power. Conservatives argue the new bureau — established by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law — is too powerful and lacks accountability.
With 44 senators joining the effort, any nominee to head the bureau could be blocked by a filibuster.
But in a draft letter Democrats plan to send to the president after gathering signatures, they argue that the GOP has forced the president to make a recess appointment, so he might as well select the Harvard professor, who is a longtime favorite of progressives and consumer groups.
“Since Republican senators have said that no one is acceptable unless the law is weakened, we would urge you to nominate Professor Warren as the CFPB’s first director anyway,” the draft states.
They argue that the GOP opposition gives the president “no choice but to make a recess appointment” to ensure a director is in place before the agency begins work.
The White House declined to comment Thursday on the letter.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, cautioned Thursday against using a congressional recess to place Warren at the top of the bureau, warning it would undermine the bureau’s accountability.
“Enhanced consumer protection and accountability are not mutually exclusive. President Obama can choose both,” he told The Hill. “I hope he’ll make the right choice.”
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee that oversees the CFPB, acknowledged that the president has the power to make a recess appointment. However, she added that “the preferable course” would be to have someone confirmed by the Senate.
She also disputed the claim that the GOP is forcing a recess appointment, pointing out that the president has had months to nominate a director.
“The president’s lack of leadership in this area … is reflecting poorly on the creation of the bureau and on one of their key legislative accomplishments,” she said. “If it’s so important, why haven’t they found somebody?”
Meanwhile, the GOP is also challenging the CFPB via several bills pending in the House. The House Financial Services Committee has approved three bills that would make changes to the agency. One would replace the director with a bipartisan commission, another would make it easier for other regulators to block CFPB rules, and a third would limit the CFPB’s power until a Senate-confirmed director is in place. Those bills will be considered by the full House sometime in the next two weeks, Capito said. However, they are not expected to advance in the Senate, where Democrats retain the majority.
As the controversy continues over the CFPB, Warren will be making another trip to testify before Congress. On Tuesday, she is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on oversight of the bureau.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, said Thursday he had not seen the “Dear Colleague” letter, but was supportive of Warren as head of the CFPB and had no problem with the president using a recess appointment to name her as director.
“Not only no problem, but what’s the alternative?” he said.
The president either has to make a recess appointment or “acquiesce” to Republican “extortion,” Frank said.