We’re going to see a vote in the next two or three weeks on the confirmation of Richard Cordray for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and that’s paradoxically a pretty bad sign for his confirmation. Indeed, this feels exactly like the unsuccessful confirmations of Dawn Johnsen or Goodwin Liu: a snap confirmation vote that fails, followed by a quick withdrawal of the nominee. That the White House is pushing for this vote is another indicator of this dynamic:
Senate Democratic leaders, at the urging of the White House, plan to hold a vote before Christmas on the president’s nominee to lead the new consumer-finance watchdog agency, according to Senate Democratic aides [...]
A procedural vote on Mr. Cordray’s nomination could come as early as next week, one Democratic aide said.
“Bringing up his nomination for a vote before the end of the year is a priority for us,” said a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).
I don’t really know what the endgame is here. The Republicans in the Senate, led by Richard Shelby, don’t think that Cordray is unfit for the office. They think that the office is unfit for the government. They don’t want the CFPB to exist. And as long as they can block a nominee for the director, they can blunt the effectiveness of the bureau (it cannot regulate nonbank financial institutions without a director). And, they hold a point of leverage to try to gut the bureau, whether through subjecting the funding to the appropriations process, turning the leadership structure from a directorship to a committee, or making for an easier veto of CFPB rulemaking by other financial regulators.
So Republicans simply will not confirm a nominee, any nominee. If the plan is to let Cordray fall on his sword and call up some “friendlier” nominee, that won’t work either. Republicans have been very clear on this point. If the plan is to simply point out Republican obstinacy, that’s nice, but it hasn’t moved the needle in the past and won’t now.
If you want to actually see a director of the CFPB, at this stage a recess appointment is the only option. And considering that the NLRB is about to go into hibernation because of a lack of commissioners, there are plenty of other recess appointments that can be made. And just to reiterate, the President has all the tools at his disposal, granted by the Constitution, to adjourn Congress and make the necessary recess appointments. The only thing missing is political will.