WASHINGTON — President Obama used his recess appointment powers Wednesday to install Richard Cordray as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In a speech in Cordray's home state of Ohio, Obama defended the controversial move, saying each day Cordray waits to be confirmed "the consumer watchdog agency we've set up is left without the tools it needs to prevent dishonest mortgage brokers, payday lenders and debt collectors from taking advantage of consumers. That's inexcusable. It's wrong. And I refuse to take 'no' for an answer."
Senate Republicans have refused to allow an up-or-down vote on Cordray's nomination — announced in July — until several changes are made the agency's structure. In an attempt to prevent the president from making a recess appointment, they have also kept the Senate in "pro forma" sessions where no business is conducted.
On Wednesday, the White House called such sessions a "gimmick" designed to prevent Obama from using his Constitutional powers.
The only reason Senate Republicans have blocked Cordray's nomination is because they opposed its creation in the Dodd-Frank Act, and want to weaken it after the fact, Obama said in Cleveland.
"We shouldn't be weakening oversight and accountability," he said. "We should be strengthening it — especially when it comes to looking out for families like yours. Financial firms have armies of lobbyists in Washington looking out for their interests. It's time someone fought for you, too."
The president insisted he is willing to work with Congress, including Democrats and Republicans, to boost the economy.
"But when Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them," Obama said. "I have an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve."
Corday, who traveled with Obama to Cleveland, told a group of reporters ahead of the president's speech that he planned to begin work immediately.
"We're going to begin working to expand our program to non-banks, which is an area we haven't been able to touch up until now," he said.
Consumers advocates praised the move, while Republicans blasted the president, accusing him of breaking precedent to sidestep Senate Republicans.
"President Obama's philosophy is clear: government knows best, and the bigger, the better," Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement. "In light of his record, it's not surprising that he end ran the elected representatives of the American people to avoid accountability to them."