Exactly one week ago, I warned that Barack Obama would not feel himself constrained from making recess appointments by the pro forma sessions in the Senate, especially on Richard Cordray. National Journal reports that Obama will announce a recess appointment for Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — and escalate the division between the Senate and the White House, and Democrats and Republicans:
President Obama will announce today that he will appoint Richard Cordray as head of the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Senate’s recess, the White House said.
The appointment comes to the dismay of Senate Republicans, who blocked Cordray’s nomination in order to weaken the bureau. …
Obama is scheduled to make his first public appearance of 2012 on Wednesday at 1:15 p.m. in the suburbs of Cleveland — Cordray’s home state.
Of all the controversial appointments that the Senate GOP has managed to bottle up, this one had the weakest argument. The objections of Republicans to Cordray rested mainly on the CFPB itself, not Cordray. They had already forced Obama to withdraw his first nominee, Elizabeth Warren, who proved inartful at Congressional relations anyway. The CFPB itself was a battle Republicans lost over a year ago. Congress passed it into law, and Obama should be able to get a nominee to run it confirmed. Republicans can win the next election and make the changes they wish in the next session, but it’s unreasonable to simply block the agency from operating with its chosen leadership.
Don’t be surprised if Obama turns to the NLRB next. The board can’t operate without a quorum, which it now lacks, and the GOP won’t budge after the activism of the NLRB under the influence of his previous recess appointment, Craig Becker. Cordray won’t cost him much political damage, but Obama will come under fire regardless of which way he goes on this. Business leaders will erupt in outrage if he forces more activists onto the NLRB, and unions will be just as outraged if he doesn’t. Obama needs the former for funding and the latter for organization in the coming election, but setting this precedent will make it almost impossible for Obama to resist more recess appointments.
Update: As an aside, the timing on this is rather interesting, too. Maybe Obama hoped to get this under the radar with all of the attention on Iowa the morning after the caucuses — or maybe steal some of the thunder from the Republicans. Either works.
However, the lasting impact of this recess appointment will be (a) Republicans blocking even more Obama appointments, and (b) a Republican President ignoring a Democratic block on appointments regardless of the time that the Senate has been out of the chamber. Expect the GOP to press a charge of Obama as an imperial President in the fall, too.
Update II: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) released a statement saying he is “outraged” by the recess appointment of Cordray:
“This is a very grave decision by this heavy-handed, autocratic White House. Circumventing the Senate and tossing out decades of precedent to appoint an unaccountable czar to appease its liberal base is beneath the Office of the President. The legislative branch exists as a check and a balance on the Executive. By opening this door, the White House is saying it can appoint any person at any time to any position it chooses without the advice and consent of the Senate. This is not how our Republic was designed to function. The American people deserve to be treated with more respect than this White House is affording them with this blatant power grab. Senators of both parties should be deeply troubled the President’s actions today – actions which will come back to haunt them. ”
Other than making statements, there is little anyone can do to stop Obama from making these appointments, as I wrote last week. The only action that can be taken is to make sure that Obama pays a political price for them.