This afternoon, President Obama went to Shaker Heights, Ohio, to announce his decision to appoint Richard Cordray director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray, who formerly served as the state’s attorney general, has been on the nomination docket  for more than six months, and has maintained solid support from a majority of the Senate. The problem, of course, was Republican opposition. It’s not so much that GOP senators were unhappy with Cordray as that they oppose the CFPB itself. But rather than submit Cordray to an up-or-down vote, they opted to block his nomination through filibusters and other procedural methods. What’s more, in order to keep Obama from making a recess appointment, they kept the Senate in continuous “pro forma” sesssions.
But Obama isn’t required to honor such sessions, and today he ignored the Senate and gave a recess appointment to Cordray. This was a bold move from the president, who tends to defer to Congress, and hasn’t made much hay about the GOP’s refusal to confirm his nominees.
Of course, Obama wasn’t in Ohio just to announce a recess appointment, which aren’t particularly novel, as far as presidential actions are concerned. More than anything, his trip to Ohio was a campaign stop—the first of the new year—and one where he expanded on his populist message. “The financial people have armies of lobbyists looking out for their interests. You need someone to look out for yours,” he said, explaining his support for the bureau. And in a jab at Republican obstruction, Obama declared, “I’ve got an obligation to act on behalf of the American people, and I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the American people.”
Obama has already doubled-down on this stance; the White House has already confirmed  that Obama plans to install his picks to the National Labor Relations Board, which has been under fire from Republicans for its willingness to work with and support the rights of workers.
Obama is clearly trying to goad the GOP into attacking his moves to improve the position of workers and ordinary Americans. Indeed, the president wants a fight, and more importantly—given the public’s enthusiasm for his populist message—he stands to gain from one.
It should be said that there was a narrow political advantage to this as well; not only did it pre-empt coverage of the Republican primaries but it underscored the extent to which Mitt Romney is very vulnerable to this avenue of attack. As a former vulture capitalist who continues to profit from his former profession, Romney is the spitting image of Wall Street excess. Moreover, he’ll be running to defend policies that enrich the wealthy—like himself—at the expense of everyone else. A general election that’s fought on the interests of the middle-class is one where Romney is at a disadvantage.