SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio - Students, labor activists, public officials and local residents wildly cheered a jubilant Barack Obama here Wednesday as the president announced he had by-passed the Congress and appointed former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to be "America's consumer watchdog."
With Cordray seated behind him in the school gym, a crowd of some 1,400 at Shaker Heights High School loudly applauded Obama and booed Senate Republicans as the President described how for almost half a year the GOP had blocked a vote on Cordray's nomination to head the federal Consumer Finance Protection Board.
The president said he was therefore forced to make the appointment now, during the current Congressional recess, if the consumer protection agency established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law was to function.
"The financial industry spent millions," in an attempt to weaken the newly established board, he said. "They have armies of lobbyists in Washington looking out for their interest. You need somebody looking out for your interest and fighting for you, and that's Richard Cordray."
Cordray, he noted, was highly recommended by the majority of state attorneys general of both parties throughout the country. The Senate Republicans, he said, know Cordray is "more than qualified" but sought to block the appointment as a way to prevent the board from moving into action to protect consumers from abuses by largely unregulated payday lenders, student loan companies and dishonest mortgage brokers.
Obama said he had patiently sought every way possible to work with Congress to win the appointment as well as to create jobs in construction, keep teachers and safety forces working and to help small businesses and veterans.
But, he said, to mounting applause, "When Congress refuses to act, I have an obligation as president to act without them. I won't stand by when a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of those we were sent to represent."
Millions of Americans, he said, were exposed to unscrupulous practices while the Republicans held up the appointment.
Earlier in the day, he recounted, he and Cordray met at the house of William and Endia Eason, an elderly Black couple. The Easons were approached by a dishonest mortgage broker in 2001 offering to fix their front steps for $8,000. The repairs were never made, the broker disappeared, the Easons ended up owing $80,000 and would have lost their modest home if a local housing advocacy group, backed by Cordray, had not intervened. To loud applause Obama pointed out Mrs. Eason, 91, who was seated in the audience. He thanked her for giving him a freshly baked sweet potato pie that he looked forward to enjoying.
The Easons, he said, worked hard. Mr. Eason had served in the Marines in Korea. They lived modestly. "They earned the right to retire with dignity and respect." That's why, he said, he could not let the Republicans "keep holding Richard's nomination hostage."
GOP leaders sputtered in anger at the announcement with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus calling it "crazy" and "unreal," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying Obama had "arrogantly circumvented the American people," and House Speaker John Boehner calling it "an extraordinary and unprecedented power grab." In fact, Obama has made far fewer recess appointments than each Republican president from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.
While the Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce threatened to challenge the appointment in court, the action was hailed by consumer groups and organized labor. On the same day, Obama saved the National Labor Relations Board from imminent collapse by making three other recess appointments that had also been blocked by the Senate GOP.
In a statement yesterday, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said,
We commend the president for exercising his constitutional authority to ensure that crucially important agencies protecting workers and consumers are not shut down by Republican obstructionism. Working families and consumers should not pay the price for political ploys that have repeatedly undercut the enforcement of rules against Wall Street abuses and the rights of working people.
Two of the NLRB appointees are Democrats and one is Republican. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had claimed Saturday the president was "stacking" the NLRB "with labor stooges."
The Campaign for America's Future is urging all who support the recess appointments of Cordray and the NLRB to sign a letter to the president.
Photo: President Barack Obama greets neighbors outside the home of William and Endia Eason in Cleveland, Ohio, Jan. 4. The President visited the Easons, who almost lost their home after falling victim to a predatory lender, to discuss the need for a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.