Elizabeth Warren has some questions


Following up on a story we’ve been following, President Obama nominated Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about a year ago, and no one could find any objections to his qualifications. But Republicans don’t believe the agency, so they blocked Cordray’s nomination in order to stop the law from being implemented. Indeed, GOP senators said they would indefinitely refuse to allow the agency to function – or do any work at all – unless Democrats agreed to weaken the CFPB’s powers and lessen consumer protections.

Just so we’re clear, this had never happened in American history. There was no precedent for the Senate blocking a qualified nominee solely because a minority of the chamber did not like the existence of the agency the nominee was selected to lead.

Obama gave Cordray a recess appointment, and the CFPB has been acting on behalf of consumers ever since, but given the rules of how recess appointments work, the president has re-nominated Cordray for the post he already holds. The Senate Banking Committee met yesterday to consider the nomination once again, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who personally helped create the CFPB, asked some very worthwhile questions – not of Cordray, but of her GOP colleagues.

“What I want to know is why, since the 1800s have there been agencies all over Washington with a single director including the OCC, but unlike the consumer agency, no one in the U.S. Senate has held up confirmation of their directors, demanding that the agency be redesigned.

“What I want to know is why every banking regulator since the Civil War has been funded outside the Appropriations process, but unlike the consumer agency, no one in the United States Senate has held up confirmation of their directors demanding that that agency or those agencies be redesigned.

“And what I want to know is why there are agencies all over Washington who’s rules are final, subject to the ordinary reviews and oversight, while the CFPB is the only agency in government, subject to a veto by other agencies. But unlike the CFPB, no one in the U.S. Senate holds up confirmation of their directors, demanding that those agencies be redesigned.”

Those strike me as questions that need not be rhetorical.

At just a basic, institutional level, it’s hard to think of a Republican abuse more outrageous than this one. The legislative branch passed law, and the executive branch of government wants to execute the law, but in this case, a minority of one chamber is arguing that they can block the White House from implementing the law because, well, the minority of one chamber feels like it.

Are conservatives comfortable with this dynamic? Congress passes a law, then gets to block the same law, after it’s been signed and implemented, pending changes that reflect the wishes of corporate lobbyists? Is this what “constitutional conservatism” is all about? The executive branch is responsible for executing laws, except the ones the Senate minority decides it doesn’t like?

Cordray’s nomination will clear the Senate Banking Committee without much trouble, but the latest available information suggests Senate Republicans will refuse to allow a vote until after Democrats agree to weaken consumer-protection laws. Unless five GOP senators are willing to do the right thing, the Republican filibuster will very likely prevail.