WASHINGTON -- A Republican boycott of the first official Senate testimony of President Obama's consumer finance watchdog fizzled Tuesday, as only half the GOP members skipped Richard Cordray's appearance out of pique over his recess appointment.
Republican senators had vowed to block any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but Obama went around them, putting Cordray in the job with a controversial recess appointment while senators were away for the Christmas vacation. They had been holding only "pro forma" sessions solely to prevent such appointments.
Some on the GOP side had hoped for a complete boycott, but four members of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs broke ranks.
Some Democrats seemed entertained that the boycott failed to materialize.
"I can't help but note the fact that we had a healthy attendance in committee this morning," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "That strikes me as a good thing, but also an admission that continuing to hold this nomination hostage until we agree to gut the bureau that we just passed ... means that my colleagues have dialed down some of their opposition."
"Plans of a mass protest appear not to have gone over with many members," Schumer added, suggesting the reason. "It's a losing fight, politically, for them," he said. "Many on the other side wisely don't want to continue the fight because they know it's on the wrong side of consumers ... It makes no sense for senators to go AWOL on these consumer issues."
Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) had implored members who did attend to focus on the job of learning about the agency's first semi-annual report -- required under the law that created the bureau in order to ensure its accountability. "I would remind my colleagues that we are not here today to debate Mr. Cordray's appointment," Johnson said. "Our job is to roll up our sleeves and provide meaningful oversight."
While most senators did ask policy questions, the ones who attended insisted on focusing on the appointment as well, including the top Republican on the committee, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, who complained that the CFPB, created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act, has far too much unchecked power.
"Unfortunately, the president has now circumvented one of the only remaining checks with his recess appointment of Mr. Cordray," Shelby said.
Other Republicans who attended were Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
Johanns, however, argued that Republicans had every right to be concerned with the manner of the appointment.
"If we accept the premise of your validity in this position," he told Cordray, "then we accept the premise that our ability to offer advice and consent basically disappears, because the president can determine when we're in recess and not in recess, and just appoint whoever."
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) argued that before Obama took his nearly unprecedented step, Republicans had forced him into that position.
"This is the first time ... in American history, according to the Senate historian, where a political party has blocked a nominee simply because they don't like the agency," Brown said, arguing that at the root of the Republican opposition was their concern about protecting Wall Street.
"In the end, we know that the other side was simply doing the bidding of Wall Street. That's what they've always done, that's what they're doing today, that's what they'll continue to do."
CORRECTION: This article has been changed to reflect that the Democratic senator from Ohio is Sherrod Brown, not Sherry Brown.