WASHINGTON — In a defiant display of executive power, President Barack Obama on Wednesday will buck GOP opposition and name Richard Cordray as the nation's chief consumer watchdog. Outraged Republican leaders in Congress suggested that courts would determine the appointment was illegal.
With a director in place, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can start overseeing the mortgage companies, payday lenders, debt collectors and other financial companies often blamed for practices that helped tank the economy.
The president planned to highlight just that point during his announcement later Wednesday in Ohio that he was putting Cordray in the job.
It seems certain to raise the level of confrontational politics for a president seeking re-election by championing the middle class. Acting right after Tuesday's GOP presidential caucuses in Iowa, Obama is seeking to grab attention with his most brazen leap-frog over Congress and show that criticism won't slow him.
Republicans have stalled Cordray's nomination because they think the consumer agency is too powerful and unaccountable.
The Senate's top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, accused Obama of an unprecedented power grab that "arrogantly circumvented the American people."
Added House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio: "It's clear the president would rather trample our system of separation of powers than work with Republicans to move the country forward. This action goes beyond the president's authority, and I expect the courts will find the appointment to be illegitimate."
By his move, Obama essentially is declaring the Senate's short off-and-on legislative sessions a sham intended to block his appointments.
Yet it was his own party that started the practice.
The White House braced for fallout, but said Obama was left with little choice to get the consumer agency fully running after months of stalemate.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer announced Obama's move on Twitter after senior administration officials first confirmed it to The Associated Press.
Obama planned to talk about his decision at an economic event in Cordray's home state of Ohio, accompanied by Cordray.
Cordray would take over the job later in the week and stands to serve for at least the next two years, covering the length of the Senate's session.
Obama planned to say that every day Cordray waited for confirmation, millions of people remained unprotected from dishonest financial practices, according to prepared remarks obtained by the AP.
"That's inexcusable," Obama says in the remarks. "And I refuse to take 'No' for an answer. I've said before that I will continue to look for every opportunity to work with Congress to move this country forward. But when Congress refuses to act in a way that hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them."
More than a standoff over one significant appointment, the fight speaks to the heart of a presidential campaign under way. Presiding over a troubled but improving economy, Obama's must persuade a weary middle class that he is their advocate, while fending off criticism from Republicans challengers and lawmakers.
Obama has constitutional power to make appointments during a congressional recess.
Expressly to keep that from happening, Republicans in the Senate have had the Senate running in "pro forma" sessions, meaning open for business in name with no actual business planned. Democrats started the practice when George W. Bush was president to halt him from making recess appointments.
The Senate held such a session on Tuesday and planned another one on Friday. Republicans contend Obama cannot make a recess appointment during a break of less than three days, based on years of precedent.
The Obama White House contends such an approach is a gimmick. For all practical purposes, the Senate is in recess and Obama is free to make the appointment on his own, administration officials told the AP.
McConnell said that Obama's move "lands this appointee in uncertain legal territory, threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress' role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch.
The president also was expected to announce other recess appointments, possibly including nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.
The agency, which oversees union elections, has been a target of Republicans who claim it has leaned too far in favor of organized labor. The board usually has five members but has operated for months with three. As of his week, it is down to just two members.3 comments on this story
Republicans have had little opposition if any to the qualifications of Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general. Their objection is with the consumer agency itself.
Obama and his team say lawmakers should try to revise the Wall Street oversight law if they don't like it, not keep the agency from performing its job.
Before his remarks at a high school in a Democratic suburb of Cleveland, Obama planned to meet with a family who got taken advantage of by a mortgage broker. He wants to use their story as an example of how the consumer agency can crack down on such practices.
Obama was traveling to the most Democratic congressional district in Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, a day after Mitt Romney won Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses by just eight votes. Obama's trip signals the White House's intent to keep the president in the public eye even as the political world focuses on the GOP's selection process.