WASHINGTON — The White House found itself in a combative back-and-forth on Thursday with Republicans who are incensed about the recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The daily press briefing by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was dominated by questions about the legality of and political fallout from the Cordray appointment.
Responding to a reporter's question about the possibility that a legal challenge will undermine Cordray's effectiveness, Carney said, "I can only say that we feel very confident about the legal foundation upon which the President made this decision."
Later, Carney refused to say whether the White House sought legal advice from the Justice Department before making the recess appointment. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley says he plans to write to Attorney General Eric Holder to ask whether the president asked for a Justice Department opinion on the legality of the move.
"I think I actually can say that we routinely consult with the Department of Justice on a range of legal matters, but we also routinely don't delve into the specifics of any confidential legal guidance that the president or the White House in general would receive in the course of those consultations," Carney said.
Carney also seemed to welcome the threat of increased intransigence by congressional Republicans.
"I don't think that anybody expected or expects Washington to be a campfire where everybody holds hands together and sings Kumbaya. That's not what the nation's business is about," Carney said.
He later tempered that comment, saying, "So we expect that the President will be able to and will work to cooperate with Congress on a number of areas. And as I said earlier this week, we actually are fairly hopeful about the prospect of greater cooperation."
At one point, a reporter asked why, given that President Obama resorted to a recess appointment, he hadn't simply installed Elizabeth Warren, the CFPB's original architect, to head the agency.
"That's a golden oldie. I think she's running for Senate," Carney shot back.
When challenged by a reporter who said that Warren would not be running for the Senate in Massachusetts if she had gotten a recess appointment to head the CFPB, Carney said, "Well, I don't know about that."
Also Thursday, Republican Rep. Scott Garrett began seeking fellow House members to sign onto a letter protesting the recess appointment of Cordray.
In the letter, which is addressed to the president, Garrett argues the appointment violates the Constitution. It makes the same argument regarding three recess appointments Wednesday to the National Labor Relations Board.
"In direct violation of the Constitution, these appointments were made at a time in which the Senate stood in pro forma session and was not in recess," the letter states. "This unprecedented and blatant attempt to diminish legislative power effectively erases the advice and consent clause from the Constitution and imperils the checks on executive power that the Founders thought necessary to prevent the emergence of a tyrant."
"The appointment of Mr. Cordray is especially egregious," the letter states. "On December 8, 2011, the Senate rejected a motion to invoke cloture on Mr. Cordray's nomination. The recess appointment of Mr. Cordray is clearly an attempt to override the judgment of the Senate and circumvent its constitutional role."