President Obama's appointment of former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was overdue.
The recess appointment will enable the bureau to do its job of protecting Americans from abuses by banks, payday lenders, and mortgage-loan and student-loan providers. And it puts obstructionist Republican lawmakers on notice that there are limits to how much the President will be pushed around.
Senate Republicans had blocked a vote on Mr. Cordray's appointment not because they disputed his clear qualifications, but because the financial industry and its GOP allies opposed the consumer bureau itself. The financial reform law enacted in 2009 created the bureau to protect middle-class Americans from nefarious practices that had helped lead to recession, record home foreclosures, and stubbornly high unemployment.
Republican lawmakers twisted the Constitution to prevent the Senate from calling a formal recess: Most lawmakers went home, but meaningless pro forma sessions occurred every three days. President Obama decided this week to ignore that sham and appoint Mr. Cordray.
GOP leaders accused Mr. Obama of showing contempt for Congress and the Constitution. Americans share contempt for Congress, as measured by its single-digit approval ratings in recent polls. And the constitutional provision at issue was intended by the Founding Fathers to prevent Congress from going home while it still had important business to do, not to prevent presidents from filling jobs.
Over the past two decades, it has been accepted practice for a president not to make recess appointments unless Congress has been out of session for at least 10 days. But there is no constitutional mandate to do so: Republican President Theodore Roosevelt filled more than 160 executive-branch jobs in 1903 during a Senate break of less than a day.
Mr. Obama has tried to work with Republicans, only to have the Tea Party caucus -- the tail that wags the GOP dog -- insist that the only acceptable compromise is to get whatever it wants. Too often, the President has given in.
Mr. Obama's first choice to head the consumer bureau, Harvard University law professor Elizabeth Warren, was the guiding force behind the agency. Republicans objected, because Ms. Warren -- now a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts -- was a Wall Street critic feared by the financial industry.
The President then chose Mr. Cordray, but Republicans insisted that the agency's statutory oversight authority be gutted as well.
This week, Mr. Obama told a crowd in Shaker Heights, Ohio, that he "will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve." The appointment of Mr. Cordray -- and of three blocked presidential nominees to the National Labor Relations Board -- suggests the President may finally have drawn a line in the sand he is willing to defend.
GOP obstructionists must understand that they cannot block a vote on a qualified nominee because they want to kill a law they don't like retroactively. If it takes an election year for President Obama to get in touch with his inner Teddy Roosevelt, bully for him.
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