WASHINGTON — On the eve of a key Senate vote on the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the White House and congressional Democrats sought to turn up the heat Wednesday on entrenched Republican opponents.
The media blitz by Democrats included press conferences at the White House and on Capitol Hill, interviews with state attorneys general and big-city mayors who support Cordray's nomination, and a series of speeches on the Senate floor.
The full-throttle effort underscored the perception among Democrats that the battle over the CFPB is a political winner for their party. It has the potential either to make the dispute a campaign issue for Democrats in 2012 or to lay the groundwork for a recess appointment of Cordray by President Obama.
At the White House, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin declined to say whether the president will make a recess appointment if Cordray's nomination fails to advance in the Senate.
"So the Senate should act on this matter," Wolin said. "And it's not for me to speculate about what comes thereafter."
A crucial procedural vote on Cordray's nomination is scheduled for Thursday, with 60 votes needed to move forward to a final vote.
Seven GOP votes are necessary to break the logjam - extremely unlikely given that all but three Republicans in the Senate have vowed to keep the CFPB's top seat empty unless Democrats agree to a number of changes in the bureau's structure.
Senate Republicans argue that the CFPB lacks accountability in its current structure. They want changes including governance of the agency by a board, rather than a single director, and subjecting the agency to the congressional appropriations process.
Wolin said Tuesday that Congress had a robust discussion about the CFPB's governance structure before the agency was established last year as part of the Dodd-Frank Act.
"Most of these concerns were not raised at the time," he said. "In fact, one of the things that some Republican senators have objected to is having a single head of the agency. Now, they haven't objected to the fact that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which is another very important bank regulator, has for 100 years had a single director."
At a press conference in the Capitol, nine Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee also pushed for an up-or-down vote on the nomination, saying that Republicans have a choice between supporting the middle class or Wall Street.
"Are you on the side of all of those consumers in America who would have someone be their advocate to make sure that they are not ripped off?" said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. "Or are you going to insist on nullifying an agency that stands up for consumers?"
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership in addition to his seat on the Banking Committee, suggested that Thursday's vote is likely to be the first in a series of votes on Cordray's nomination between now and the 2012 elections.
"There are going to be votes on these kinds of things, yes," Schumer said. "And we are going to see that the hard wall that our Republican colleagues have put up in so many different areas where we're trying to protect the middle class and they're trying to protect the interests that don't really need much protection is beginning to break. And we're hopeful in this area that'll happen too."
"They've been pretty dug in on the CFPB. But you never know when things change," Schumer said. "And this is going to be a bellwether issue, not just today but throughout 2012 and into the campaign. Who's against an agency that protects consumers against outrageous abuses?"
Schumer said that a Senate-confirmed director is preferable to a recess appointment by President Obama, because it would allow Cordray to serve a full five-year term. But he also said that if Republicans continue to block the nomination, "I would personally support whatever it took to get that person in charge."
Also attending the Senate press conference were Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Daniel Akaka, Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. Jeff Merkley, and Sen. Kay Hagan.