WASHINGTON — As expected, Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, extending the two-year-long partisan fight over the agency.
The vote was 53 to 45, almost entirely along party lines, and seven votes shy of the 60 necessary to allow the Senate to vote on the nomination.
The result set up the possibility that President Obama will install Cordray in a recess appointment, although that step is far from assured. Congressional Republicans have been taking actions to ensure that the Senate does not officially go into recess, blocking the possibility of a recess appointment.
At a White House press briefing following the vote, Obama would not rule out a recess appointment.
"We're going to look at all our options," he said. "My hope and my expectation is that Republicans who blocked this nomination will come to their senses."
Senate Republicans are demanding changes to the structure of the CFPB before allowing a vote on Cordray's nomination. For example, they want the agency to go through the congressional appropriations process, rather than receiving a percentage of the Federal Reserve's budget.
But Democrats clearly believe they have a winning political hand. Speaking to reporters after the vote, Sen. Charles Schumer said that if there is no recess appointment, Senate Democrats plan to continue to pressure Republicans to allow a final vote on Cordray's nomination.
"Let me put my Republican colleagues on notice: this is not over," Schumer said. "We will never sign on to any attempt to permanently gut this agency, to make the agency respond away from the consumer and toward the special interests. We will not negotiate with them on any plan to cut this agency off at the knees."
"I hope the president will use whatever tools are legally at his disposal to get Cordray onboard. And it's not an issue we're going to be giving up on here in the Senate."
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who's leading the charge to block Cordray's nomination, introduced a new argument shortly before Thursday's vote.
In an appeal to his party's conservative base, Shelby suggested that the Democrats' support for CFPB is motivated by an interest in providing funding to liberal allies such as ACORN.
"Other agencies must return to the Treasury funds they receive from enforcement actions. The bureau, however, is allowed to dole out money it collects from fines and penalties to liberal consumer groups," Shelby said on the Senate floor.
"This reveals why the administration and the majority want so desperately for the bureau to be unaccountable," Shelby continued. "They want the bureau to be a permanent funding machine for their political allies."
There were no real surprises in Thursday's vote. No Democrats crossed party lines.
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who had previously said that Cordray's nomination deserved an up-or-down vote, was the only Republican who voted with the Democrats.
Brown faces a tough reelection fight in 2012 against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor who came up with the idea of the CFPB, fought for its creation, and then headed the team that set up the agency.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who supported the 2010 law that created the consumer bureau, voted present. Snowe is also up reelection next year.