The US Senate blocked the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this morning by a 53-45 vote, with one senator voting “present.” The failure to appoint a head to the CFPB will certainly be a hot topic in the 2012 presidential and Congressional elections, since Democrats seems increasingly willing to paint Republicans as protectors of Wall Street and the one percent.
Though Cordray received a majority of the votes cast, seven more were needed to pass the sixty-vote threshold to break a filibuster. Some Democrats like Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator Bill Nelson sent signals this week that they might not vote to move forward with Cordray’s nomination, but every Democrat did end up voting in the affirmative (except Senator John Kerry, who did not vote).
Two Republicans, however, wavered. Senator Scott Brown voted for Corday’s nomination to move forward, provoking immediate pushback from some right-wingers. This is a clear indication of the Elizabeth Warren effect on Brown: he presumably could not risk having blocked a crucial nomination to the popular CFPB when he’s running against the woman who started it. Another New England Republican up for re-election in 2012, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, voted “present.” That seems like an odd over-calculation, since neither side will give credit for the vote, but she’s clearly concerned about opposing consumer protection as well.
Forty-five Republicans sent the White House a letter in May asserting they would not approve any director to head the CFPB unless certain “reforms” were made, chief among them being the elimination of the position of director. Instead, Republicans want a bipartisan, five-person board to head the CFPB—and they also want yearly Congressional approval of the CFPB’s budget, along with more oversight from existing industry-friendly regulators.
These “reforms” are nakedly transparent attempts to weaken the CFPB’s power, and the Senators who signed the letter have received over $125 million from the financial sector during their careers. (For more on the industry’s war on the CFPB, see Ari Berman’s piece from June).
But Republicans are attempting to paint the agency as out-of-control and in need of serious checks. “We don’t need any more unelected, unaccountable czars in Washington,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor Tuesday. Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, ludicrously urged Democrats today to “stop obstructing reform.”
With the nomination effectively dead, there’s only one thing left to do—President Obama can recess-appoint Cordray to the CFPB. Though Republicans have been maneuvering this year to prevent recess appointments, it is possible for Obama to do so at the end of this year. At a press briefing immediately following the Cordray vote, Obama said he "will not take any options off the table" when it comes to installing Cordray at the CFPB.