This morning President Obama appointed former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It's was the right move, and it's about time.
In December, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on Cordray, who has majority support. In an unprecedented move, Republicans said that Cordray was a fine candidate, but they were holding his nomination hostage because they wanted to change the underlying law and weaken the agency. In another unprecedented move, Republicans claimed that the House of Representatives (which is Republican-controlled) could hold the Senate (controlled by Democrats) in session to block recess appointments.
Today, Obama used his constitutional power to make a recess appointment and cut through all this nonsense.
The big banks and their allies in Congress are in a tizzy. They're steamed. But not for the reasons they say. They claim the president didn't have authority to appoint Cordray, but he did. For example, they say a three-day recess is too short for a recess appointment. But this is really a five-week recess, with some phony gavel-banging thrown in by a single Senator once every three days. In reality, the Senate is out of town. Even if it's a three-day recess, Cordray's appointment is legal. The only court to have looked at the question recognized the obvious: the Constitution "does not establish a minimum time that an authorized break in the Senate must last to give legal force to the President's appointment power under the Recess Appointments Clause." Two past presidents -- Harry S. Truman and Theodore Roosevelt -- made recess appointments during recesses of three or fewer days. And let's not forget: The Republicans didn't have the power to keep the Senate in pro forma sessions anyway.
What's the real reason the big banks and the Republicans are so mad? Because they lost this battle in the war over America's economy. They want big banks to be above the law, to write their own rules, and to compete, if at all, principally on the basis of who scams their customers the most. (The consumer financial sector rotted several years ago, plain and simple.) They want the same system we had before 2008 -- in which big banks raked in billions in profits and government handouts while the economy crashed and millions of people lost their jobs and were thrown out of their homes.
The CFPB and Cordray's appointment are victories for those who have something else in mind. Most people want to get the financial sector back on track, to build a fair economy in which everyone plays by the rules and -- call us old-fashioned -- to have businesses compete to provide consumers value. If you're one of those people, you won a big victory today.