WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are considering holding a vote next week on the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as the administration made the case Thursday for a quick confirmation.
In a press conference at the agency's headquarters, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner called on the Senate to act soon to confirm Cordray, but would not say whether the administration was considering a recess appointment, or whether it had reached out to individual Republicans to try to persuade them.
"I am very confident if the members of the Senate — I would hope to say 'when the members of the Senate' — take a careful look at all he brings to this job and take a careful look at the work the bureau is actually doing, they'll reach the judgment the president made and confirm Mr. Cordray to run this important bureau," Geithner said. "And we hope they do it quickly."
Senate Republicans have vowed to block the confirmation of a director, and it does not appear that Democrats have the 60 votes they would need to advance the confirmation. But a vote would force Republicans to go on record against the CFPB, which Democrats plan to use as a campaign issue next year. It would also pave the way for a potential recess appointment, which sources said the White House is still considering.
In a letter to the president last May, 44 Republican senators vowed to block the confirmation until the bureau's director is replaced with a commission, it is subject to the appropriations process and its rules are easier to overturn.
Geithner acknowledged that some senators continue to have concerns about the bureau's scope and authority.
"I guess I would ask the question, 'Who are they protecting?'" Geithner said. "What are they protecting? What's the principle that they're protecting? They're not protecting consumers, because without a confirmed director, you have consumers vulnerable to a level of … abuse that we as the United States should not tolerate."
Asked whether the administration was willing to consider a recess appointment — a move that carries significant political risks for the president, including the ability to advance other nominees — Geithner hedged.
"I'm optimistic that we have a very strong compelling case," he said. "And people who expose themselves to the case and look at the credibility of the nominee and look at the work of the bureau will decide it's in the interest of the country to confirm him."
He said the agency is "doing everything we can to try to make the case," but did not say whether the administration was speaking with any Republicans to try to convince them to let the nomination move forward.
Only one Republican, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, has publicly supported Cordray's nomination and called for an up-or-down vote.
If the Senate holds a vote next week, it would be a vote to invoke cloture — in effect, to proceed to the actual vote on Cordray's nomination. Although the actual confirmation vote only requires a simple majority, Democrats need 60 votes to invoke cloture.
Some observers had previously suggested the administration might be willing to cut a deal with Republicans, particularly on the question of replacing the single director with a commission. (The original House bill called for a board of directors.) But Geithner dispelled any notion that the administration would consider a compromise.
"Congress spent a lot of time, Democrats consulting with Republicans, looking at the model that exists across the entire regulatory community and designed a set of checks and balances that are very strong," Geithner said. "We think they got that balance right, and we don't see any case for changing that balance. And I don't believe we should have to do that."
Geithner said the case for confirming a director is clear. Without a confirmed director, the reach of the CFPB is limited, in effect creating two systems of consumer protection: one for people who do business with banks, and one weaker set of protections for people who do business with nonbanks, he said.
"It makes no sense to run a system like that," Geithner said. "And the longer we wait to confirm a director, the more we're leaving millions of Americans who aren't in business with banks vulnerable to the kind of abuses that caused so much damage."
He also said delaying the confirmation is bad for banks if they are held to a higher standard than other finance companies.