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Obama bypasses Senate, installs new consumer chief

By Jim Kuhnhenn

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 4 2012 1:15 p.m. MST

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — A defiant President Barack Obama, tired of Senate Republicans stalling his nominee to lead a new consumer protection agency, put him in charge Wednesday over their opposition.

"I refuse to take 'no' for an answer," the president said.

Outraged GOP leaders in Congress immediately suggested that courts would determine whether Richard Cordray's appointment was illegal.

With a director in place, Obama said the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can start overseeing the mortgage companies, payday lenders, debt collectors and other financial operations often blamed for practices that helped undermine the economy.

Obama announced the move with Cordray by his side before a cheering crowd in Ohio, a politically vital state where Cordray once was attorney general.

"Every day that we waited was another day when millions of Americans are left unprotected," Obama.

Until Cordray took over, the office didn't have all the tools needed "to protect consumers against dishonest mortgage brokers or payday lenders, and debt collectors who are taking advantage of consumers," Obama said. "And that's inexcusable. It's wrong."

In political terms, the recess appointment during the congressional break raised the level of confrontation for a president seeking re-election by championing the middle class and challenging an unpopular Congress. Acting right after Tuesday's GOP presidential caucuses in Iowa, Obama sought to grab attention and show he would not be slowed, making his most brazen leap-frog over Congress.

Senate Republicans had halted Cordray's nomination because they think the consumer agency is too powerful and unaccountable.

The Senate's top Republican, 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."

It was unclear who might undertake a legal fight. But people familiar with the matter said an outside private group regulated by the consumer agency might be in the best legal position.

By going around the Senate, where Democrats hold an edge but Republicans can block action, Obama essentially declared that the chamber's short off-and-on sessions are a sham intended to block him, but don't prevent him from such an appointment.

Yet it was his own party that started the practice when Republican George W. Bush was president.

In reality, Obama had 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 spokesman Jay Carney said White House lawyers have determined Obama is within his bounds to appoint Cordray now.

Cordray, who's expected to take over this week, stands to serve for at least the next two years, until the end of the Senate's next session, the White House said.

At a high school in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Obama said Republicans were only blocking Cordray because they wanted to water down consumer protections.

"I'm not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people we were elected to serve," he said.

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