U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday circumvented his rival Republican Senators to appoint former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a financial sector watchdog, when U.S. Congress was in recess.
The administration fought to pass and signed into law the strongest consumer protection in history in 2010. The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, or the Dodd-Frank Act, created the CFPB, an independent agency with the primary mission of acting as a watchdog for American consumers.
Obama announced his intent to nominate Cordray as the CFPB director in July 2011, but the nomination had been blocked by GOP Senators.
"Everyone agrees that he's more than qualified," and Cordray had won bipartisan support, Obama said during an address at Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio, a key election swing state.
The bold move taken by the White House was aimed at protecting the hard-won financial reform and setting up a showdown with Republican lawmakers as Obama had geared up his reelection bid.
Republican lawmakers held that the authorities should replace the single director structure of the CFPB with a board of directors that would oversee the agency, subject the bureau to the congressional appropriations process, and allow other financial regulators to provide a check on CFPB rules before giving the green light to the CFPB director nomination.
The U.S. Constitution requires that most senior federal officers must be confirmed by the Senate before assuming office, but U.S. president can act alone by making a recess appointment while the Senate is in recess. To remain in effect a recess appointment must be approved by the Senate by the end of the next session of Congress.
"The president's counsel has determined that the Senate has been in recess for weeks and will be in recess for weeks. The Constitution guarantees the president the right, provides the president the right to make appointments during Senate recesses, and the president will use that authority to make this appointment, " White House spokesman Jay Carney Wednesday told reporters.
"When the Congress will not act, when Republicans block important things that need to be done on behalf of the American people, this president will act, because we can't wait," Carney added.
"The CFPB is poised to be one of the least accountable and most powerful agencies in Washington," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the top GOP Senator, said Wednesday in a statement.
In an unprecedented move, Obama "arrogantly" circumvented the American people by "recess" appointing Cordray as director of the CFPB, challenged McConnell.
To keep the "recess" appointment from happening, Republicans in the Senate had the upper chamber running in "pro-forma" sessions every three days, namely open for business in name with no actual business indeed.
This "extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab" by Obama defied centuries of practice and the legal advice of his own Justice Department, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.
"It's clear the president would rather trample our system of separation of powers than work with Republicans to move the country forward. This action goes beyond the president's authority, and I expect the courts will find the appointment to be illegitimate," Boehner added.
In line with decades of U.S. congressional practices, the U.S. Department of Justice has found that Congress must be in recess more than three days before a president can make an intra-session recess appointment, according to the statement from Boehner, the top GOP House lawmaker.