On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Senate officially confirmed Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a post he has held through a controversial recess appointment since January 2012.
The final vote was 66 in favor, 34 opposed. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), among the architects of the CFPB and once considered for the Bureau's top post, announced the final tally. The confirmation was effective immediately.
Earlier in the day, moving beyond a Republican filibuster that had kept a final vote on the nomination in limbo, Senators voted 71-29, with 17 Republicans joining Democrats among the affirmative, to close debate and move forward with the final confirmation vote. The three-fifths majority exceeded to 60 votes needed to break the filibuster and invoke cloture.
A compromise between Republicans and Democrats cleared a path for the Cordray confirmation, as well as others by the Obama administration that have been blocked by Republicans. The agreement, brokered in large part by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), calls for the administration to withdraw and replace contested appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. As a trade-off, Republicans will allow votes to proceed for President Obama's top choices to run the Labor Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and Export-Import Bank of the United States.
On Tuesday afternoon, Reid said a vote on Fred Hochberg's nomination to the Export-Import Bank could come as early as Wednesday. Debate and a vote on Thomas Edward Perez for Secretary of Labor and Regina McCarthy to the EPA are likely to proceed later this week.
A full slate of nominees for the NLRB, including three Democrats and two Republicans, will likely be considered by early next week. On Tuesday, President Obama nominated Nancy Schiffer, associate general counsel for the AFL-CIO, and Kent Hirozawa, the current chief counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce. They replace 2012 recess appointees Sharon Block and Richard Griffin Jr., both of whom were removed from consideration as part of the compromise with Republicans.
Cordray's recess appointment by the President, as well as those made to the NLRB, drew the criticism of Republicans who asserted that Congress was, not technically, recessed at the time they were made. In January, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in relation to the NLRB appointments. Its ruling that the appointments were unconstitutional has been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. The status of that case, given the bipartisan compromise on nominations, is unclear.
Throughout the day, prior to the confirmation, there continued to be a smattering of debate. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) was among the critics of the agency, and its director, citing concerns about its autonomy, lack of Congressional budget oversight, and the cost and burden of its initiatives on business operations. Crapo also questioned the “enormous amount” of consumer credit data being collected by the CFPB, often by working with third parties. “I consider these to be very serious privacy concerns by the very agency that was created to watch out for consumers, not to watch consumers," he said. "What assurances do we have from the CFPB that these massive troves of data and consumer credit information are safe?”
Cordray was not without supporters, however. On the previous day, Warren praised Cordray's leadership and compared recent battles over his confirmation to arguments first voiced when the CFPB was created by the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010.
“I know that some Republicans and lobbyists think that this filibuster on Rich's appointment can shut down the work of the agency,” Warren said. “They can use slogans all they want and talk about things like ‘accountability,' but outside the halls of this Congress and the fancy lobbyist offices across Washington, no one wants more fine print and more tricks and traps. No one thinks it's OK to cheat regular people and cut special deals for giant banks. And no one wants to take the cops off the beat so big banks can break the rules without being held accountable.”
More than 160,000 people also signed petitions calling on the Senate to “unconditionally” confirm Cordray. The petitions, organized by Americans for Financial Reform, Consumers Union, the American Federation of Labor, and the National Council of La Raza, were delivered to Reid's office on Tuesday morning.