Senate panel backs former Ohio AG Cordray’s nomination for consumer watchdog

A Senate panel Tuesday sent former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray’s nomination to head a consumer watchdog agency to the full Senate for final approval, but his confirmation is anything but certain.

The Senate Banking Committee approved Cordray’s nomination as director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by a 12-10 vote, with Democrats including panel member Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, supporting him and Republicans opposing him.

But Cordray’s nomination could stall on the floor of the Senate, where 43 Republicans have vowed to block his nomination because of their dislike for the structure of the agency he heads. Under Senate rules, Cordray will need 60 votes in order to have his full confirmation voted on. It’s unclear when the Senate will vote on him.

Senate Republicans say that the bureau has been given too much power. They want it headed by a board, not one director, and they want it subject to the congressional appropriations process. They say they won’t approve Cordray’s nomination unless the structure is changed.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, did not sign the letter sent to Obama by his fellow Senate Republicans, saying instead he would like for Cordray to change the agency from within in order to earn his support.

“As a nominee to head an independent agency, Director Cordray has the opportunity to stake out a position independent of the White House in favor of some basic checks and balances that apply to other important regulators,” said Caitlin Dunn, a Portman spokeswoman. “That’s the way to find a path forward in the Senate on this nomination.”

Democrats say Congress decided on the structure of the bureau when they established it, and point to Cordray’s work during his first year at the helm of the agency as proof that he’s the right man for the position.

Cordray was appointed to head the agency last year under a controversial recess appointment on the same day that Obama also used recess appointments to fill three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board. In January, a federal appeals court ruled that Obama violated the Constitution when he acted to fill the National Labor Relations Board spots as recess appointments. Republicans argue that because Cordray was appointed on that day, his appointment, too, is unconstitutional.

If he isn’t confirmed, Cordray is considered a possible Democratic opponent to Gov. John Kasich next year. His current term expires at the end of this year.

Separately, the panel also approved the nomination of Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. Brown was the lone member of the banking committee to vote against her confirmation.

He said he did so because he felt White was too close to the Wall Street culture that she would oversee as a watchdog.

“I see a Washington bias toward Wall Street,” he said in an interview after the vote. “There are a number of other people who could do this job well who have never been in the middle of the Wall Street culture.”

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