WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday sharply denounced President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
"This recess appointment represents a sharp departure from a long-standing precedent that has limited the President to recess appointments only when the Senate is in a recess of 10 days or longer," McConnell said in a press release. "Breaking from this precedent lands this appointee in uncertain legal territory, threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress's role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch."
Several observers said they expect a legal challenge to the CFPB in part questioning Obama's ability to make a recess appointment. Under the Constitution, the President has the right to make an appointment as long as the Senate is in recess. In an attempt to prevent that, Republicans have kept the Senate in "pro forma" sessions where no business is conducted. The White House on Wednesday called such sessions a "gimmick" designed to prevent Obama from using his Constitutional powers.
But McConnell said it was the president that overstepped his bounds.
"Congress has a constitutional duty to examine presidential nominees, a responsibility that serves as a check on executive power," he said. "But once again, the President has chosen to circumvent the confirmation process."
A Senate Republican source said that the appointment — if it survives potential legal challenges — means that any future president can make a recess appointment whenever the Senate's lights are out.
"That's a really dangerous precedent," the source said. "I mean, what's the point of having a Senate confirmation process?"
The GOP source predicted that the recess appointment would likely be challenged in court by a private party that is regulated by CFPB. And the source said the appointment will make Senate Republicans less willing to confirm other Obama nominees.
Last month, McConnell held up the nominations of Martin Gruenberg to lead the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Thomas Curry to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — apparently as a hedge against the possibility that Cordray would get a recess appointment.
The Senate Republican source declined Wednesday to comment on the likely fate of the FDIC and OCC nominations, but said, "I don't think it'll engender a lot of cooperation, which is unfortunate, because we were working pretty well on nominees."