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Associated Press
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Richard Cordray before speaking about the economy, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, at Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Defying lawmakers, President Barack Obama on Wednesday barreled by the Senate and installed a national consumer watchdog on his own, provoking GOP threats of a constitutional showdown in the courts. Setting a fierce tone in the election-year fight for middle-class voters, Obama said: "I refuse to take 'no' for an answer."

Obama named Richard Cordray, a respected former attorney general of Ohio, to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after giving up on hopes for a confirmation vote in the Senate. The appointment means the agency is able to oversee a vast swath of lending companies and others accused at times of preying on consumers with shady practices.

In political terms, Obama's move was unapologetically brazen, the equivalent of a haymaker at Republicans in the Senate who had blocked his nominee. Acting right after Tuesday's presidential caucuses in Iowa, which showered attention on his opponents, Obama sought to make a splash as the one fighting for the rights of the little guy.

Presidents of both parties long have gotten around a stalled confirmation by naming a nominee to a job when the Senate is on a break through a process known as a recess appointment.

But Obama went further by squeezing in his appointment during a break between rapid Senate sessions this week, an unusual move that the GOP called an arrogant power grab.

The White House said what the Senate was doing — gaveling in and out of session every few days solely to avoid being in recess — was a sham. Obama's aides said the president would not be stopped by a legislative gimmick, even though it was Senate Democrats who began the practice to halt President George W. Bush's appointments.