Richard Cordray watches as President Obama announces that he will renominate… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)
WASHINGTON -- Nearly all Senate Republicans have pledged to block the confirmation of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, adding to the uncertainty about the agency's leadership after a recent court ruling threatening his recess appointment to the position.
"Far too much power is vested in the sole CFPB director without any meaningful checks and balances," the senators wrote to President Obama on Friday.
The letter was signed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and 42 of his GOP colleagues -- enough to filibuster a vote on Cordray's nomination.
Obama last month renominated Cordray, who has been serving as director since the recess appointment in early 2012.
The senators demanded changes to the bureau's structure before they would allow a vote on Cordray or any nominee to be its director.
They want the single director position to be replaced by a bipartisan board similar to those that run most other government agencies. The senators also want the bureau's funding to be part of the congressional appropriations process instead of flowing directly from the Federal Reserve.
And they want to make it easier for other banking regulators to block actions by the consumer bureau.
The demands are the same as those made by Senate Republicans in 2011 when Obama was looking to appoint the first director of the bureau, which was the centerpiece of the 2010 overhaul of financial regulations.
Because of Republican opposition, Obama used a recess appointment to install Cordray in January 2012. On the same day, Obama also made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
The Senate was holding short, pro forma sessions during its holiday break. Obama argued that the Senate was effectively recessed, allowing him to temporarily fill vacancies. Cordray's recess appointment expires at the end of this year.
Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that Obama's NLRB appointments violated the Constitution because the Senate had not formally adjourned. The lawsuit challenging the appointments did not mention Cordray, but it is widely believed to affect his appointment.
The Obama administration is almost certain to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), has introduced legislation to enact the changes to the bureau's structure that he and his colleagues want.
"Allowing a single unelected official to define their own jurisdiction and regulate vast segments of our economy without accountability or restraint is irresponsible regardless of political party," Moran said.
There are likely enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate to confirm Cordray's nomination, which only requires a majority. But there is enough Republican opposition to prevent a vote. It takes 60 senators to overcome a filibuster.
"The American people need Richard to keep standing up for them," Obama said in renominating Cordray on Jan. 24. "And there's absolutely no excuse for the Senate to wait any longer to confirm him."
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said Republicans were playing politics with an important appointment.
"For more than a year, Director Cordray has been leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and under his leadership the CFPB has been widely praised for its thoughtful and balanced rule-makings and enforcement actions," Johnson said in a statement.