WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of state attorneys general Tuesday said the ongoing debate about the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should not affect the choice of who will run the new agency.
Members of the National Association of Attorneys General told lawmakers in a letter that Richard Cordray — the bureau's enforcement chief who was nominated in July to run the CFPB — "has the knowledge, experience and leadership skills to serve in this important position."
Two representatives of the group, a Democrat and Republican, reiterated that support in a conference call held by the White House. They said GOP demands that the CFPB structure be reformed — including that any director face oversight from a full board — should be independent from the consideration of Cordray, who was himself the attorney general of Ohio.
"I'm sure that as time goes by, as different senators and parties come into power, that maybe changes can be made. But right now we're dealing with a crisis situation," Republican Utah Attorney Mark Shurtleff said on the call. "We need full collaboration with power held by the federal government. I feel so strongly about Rich Cordray and his fairness and ability to do this job and do it well."
Shurtleff, who sounded supportive of the bureau getting greater oversight, said 10 Republican AGs had nonetheless signed the letter. (Some of the members of the group declined.) "We know Rich, we've worked with him, we know his character, his intellect and his educational background, as well as his track record on protecting consumers, particularly in the financial markets," Shurtleff said.
Earlier this month, the Senate Banking Committee approved Cordray's nomination along party lines. Yet it is unclear if the full Senate will confirm him. Forty-four Republicans who opposed the bureau's creation in the Dodd-Frank Act have vowed to reject any nominee for the director's job absent significant changes to the new agency's structure, including having CFPB decisions voted on by a full board. The bureau, which cannot carry out all of its statutory duties without a confirmed director, is being run on an acting basis by senior CFPB official Raj Date.
In the letter, the attorneys general said disagreements about the reform law should not be confused with Cordray's suitability for the job.
"We are Attorneys General from across the country who represent a wide range of political interests. Some of us may disagree with aspects of the Dodd-Frank legislation," the group wrote in the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Neb. "But we are united in our belief that Mr. Cordray is very well qualified to carry out the responsibilities of this position."
Some have speculated the White House may be open to negotiating with Republican lawmakers — including installing an oversight board for the bureau — in order to win a confirmation for a CFPB director.
But Brian Deese, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said the structure of the bureau was established by last year's reform law, and the next step is to permanently install a director. He noted that Dodd-Frank does provide veto power over CFPB decisions to the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a newly formed panel of the heads of several regulatory agencies.
"The debate around the CFPB as an institution is one that we had through the course of reform," Deese said. "The CFPB is ultimately accountable to Congress and the American public, and it is positioned to protect American consumers and help contribute to the stability of the financial system more broadly. What it needs now is a permanent director in place so that we can continue to build our way out of this economic crisis and build a more stable financial system."
But through a spokesman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, said changes to the CFPB are needed before a director is confirmed.
"Discussion of any nominee's qualifications to run this bureaucracy are premature until President Obama stops ignoring Republicans' calls to make it accountable to their elected representatives," Shelby said through his spokesman.