Obama to bypass Senate GOP, recess-appoint key nominee

President Obama plans to circumvent Senate GOP opposition and recess-appoint his nominee to head a new consumer bureau, two senior administration officials told The Hill.

White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer confirmed the recess appointment of Richard Cordray on Wednesday on Twitter after the move was first reported by The Associated Press.

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"We Can't Wait: Today in Ohio, President Obama will announce the recess appointment of Consumer Watchdog Richard Cordray," Pfeiffer tweeted.

Obama will recess-appoint Cordray to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Senate Republicans en masse voted to block the nomination in December and have sought to prevent congressional recesses by holding pro forma sessions every few days during longer breaks.

In a post on the White House blog, Pfeiffer said the Constitution gave Obama the power to make the recess appointment, which Republicans have criticized as an unprecedented power grab.

"Here are the facts: The Constitution gives the president the authority to make temporary recess appointments to fill vacant positions when the Senate is in recess, a power all recent presidents have exercised," Pfeiffer wrote. 

Pfeiffer also called Senate GOP efforts to block an up-or-down vote on Cordray's nomination a "gimmick." 

"But gimmicks do not override the president’s constitutional authority to make appointments to keep the government running," Pfieffer wrote. "Legal experts agree. In fact, the lawyers who advised President Bush on recess appointments wrote that the Senate cannot use sham 'pro forma' sessions to prevent the President from exercising a constitutional power."

Republican leaders in the House and Senate were quick to blast the White House move.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Obama "arrogantly circumvented the American people" and said the decision "fundamentally endangers" Congress's ability to check the "excesses of the executive branch."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the effort an "extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab ... [that] would have a devastating effect on the checks and balances that are enshrined in our Constitution."

He also hinted that a legal challenge could be in the works, adding he expects "the courts will find the appointment to be illegitimate."

A House GOP aide told The Hill that lawmakers might not have standing to file a lawsuit over the appointment, but a business affected by the agency would. So if a financial institution "gets clobbered by the agency," it could sue to challenge the nomination, the aide said.

The CFPB was created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, and is charged with enforcing a variety of financial consumer protection laws. However, it cannot fully realize its power until a director is in place.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the decision to recess appoint Cordray a "no-brainer."

"The president feels very strongly that Americans deserve someone in Washington who will look out for their interests," Carney said in a gaggle with reporters. 

— Amie Parnes and Daniel Strauss contributed.

This story was last updated at 12:08 p.m.


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