WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday hailed Richard Cordray's long-awaited confirmation as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, saying his installation gives consumers a stronger footing "for years to come" in dealings with banks and credit card companies.
Obama, the beneficiary of a Senate agreement Tuesday that cleared the way for a number of his nominations, said Cordray's confirmation eliminates any lingering doubts about the authority of the consumer agency, whose creation was one of the key features of a 2010 financial regulation law and has long been a point of contention with Republicans.
Cordray's confirmation and his swearing in by Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday morning culminate a drawn out fight between Obama on the one hand and the financial industry and GOP lawmakers on the other over the authority of the agency. Republicans have sought to alter the agency's structure and the means by which it is financed to give Congress greater control.
"For two years, Republicans in the Senate refused to give Rich a simple yes or no vote, not because they didn't think he was the right person for the job, but because they didn't like the law that set up the consumer watchdog in the first place," Obama told an audience of about 60 people gathered in the White House's State Dining Room.
Among those in attendance was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who conceived the idea of a consumer agency while she was a Harvard Law School professor. Initially touted for the director's job, Warren was perceived as too polarizing and Obama instead chose Cordray for the post.
Cordray and Warren embraced warmly Wednesday after Obama's remarks.
Cordray thanked Obama and senators for his confirmation. "It's all I ever asked for, all I ever worked for was the chance to have an up or down vote on the merits," he said.
Creation of the bureau was one of the key features of a 2010 financial regulation law and it has long been a point of contention with Republicans.
Obama last year placed Cordray in the job through an appointment when the Senate was not fully in session. Republicans have challenged the appointment arguing that the Senate was not officially in recess to permit Obama to act on his own.
Obama, noting that he took matters into his own hands, said Wednesday that "without a director in place the CFPB would have been severely hampered."
In one of its major actions, the agency last year ordered three credit card companies — American Express, Discover and Capital One — to refund more than $400 million to about six million customers for using what it said were pressure or misleading tactics.
Obama also gave credit to the agency for addressing more than 175,000 consumer complaints, for helping simplify credit card forms and giving students and parents more information before taking out student loans.
Cordray's confirmation was part of a deal in the Senate to dislodge a number of Obama nominations that had faced Republican opposition. The Senate voted 66-34 to confirm Cordray, the first in a series of votes planned this week on a total of seven Obama nominees to various Cabinet departments and agencies.
On Wednesday, the chamber planned to vote on Fred Hochberg to be president of the Export-Import Bank. Votes on Labor Secretary-designate Tom Perez and Gina McCarthy, Obama's choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, could also come by the end of the week.
The deal averted a pitched struggle over changing the Senate rules that effectively require 60-vote thresholds instead of the 51-vote simple majority to win confirmation.