Grassley helps block Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nominee

U.S. Senate Republicans successfully filibustered President Barack Obama’s appointee to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today. It was the second time this week that Senator Chuck Grassley and his GOP colleagues blocked a presidential nominee.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a new agency created under the 2010 financial reform law commonly known as Dodd-Frank. Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren proposed the creation of the agency and became a White House adviser involved with setting up the bureau. However, President Barack Obama didn’t appoint Warren to run the bureau, because everyone in Washington knew the Senate would never confirm her. Warren is now a Democratic challenger for the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts.

In July, Obama nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Announcing Cordray’s appointment, Obama said,

“I asked Elizabeth [Warren] to find the best possible choice for director of the bureau, and that’s who we found in Richard Cordray. Richard was one of the first people that Elizabeth recruited, and he’s helped stand up the bureau’s enforcement division over the past six months,” he said.

Obama touted Cordray’s record as Ohio’s attorney general and treasurer and boasted that he has successfully worked “across the ideological spectrum.” The president also joked that Cordray was a five-time Jeopardy champion and that “all his answers at his confirmation hearings will be in the form of a question.”

Up on the Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY., today repeated Senate Republicans opposition to his, or any nomination, until there are legislative fixes to the bureau.

“Senate Republicans still aren’t interested in approving anyone to the position until the president agrees to make this massive new government bureaucracy more accountable and transparent to the American people,” McConnell said from the Senate floor today.

Forty-four Republican senators have signed a letter to the president stating “we will not support the consideration of any nominee regardless of party affiliation to be the CFPN director until the structure of the consumer financial protection bureau is reformed.”

Senate Republicans including Grassley made good on that threat today. Although 53 senators supported the cloture vote on Cordray’s nomination (roll call), Senate rules require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Incidentally, the only Republican who voted for cloture was Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who will face Warren in the 2012 general election.

Grassley’s official comment on today’s vote suggests that he will oppose any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as it is currently organized:

“This position was created to operate inside the Federal Reserve, without any opportunity to hold the bureau accountable.  That’s the wrong direction.  Lack of accountability contributed in big ways to many of the problems that came to a head in the 2008 financial meltdown.  It doesn’t make sense to try to fix things with more of the same and unchecked power.  Our system of government depends on checks and balances.  Americans deserve to have their voices heard in any regulatory process through the representative branch of government.  This position, as currently set up, flies in the face of those values and principles.”

I haven’t seen any statement from Democratic Senator Tom Harkin on the defeat of Cordray’s nomination.

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans blocked one of Obama’s nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. The cloture vote on Caitlin Joan Halligan’s nomimation received just 54 yes votes (roll call). As in today’s vote on Cordray, Harkin supported the cloture motion, while Grassley was among the 45 senators voting no.

I did not receive a statement from Grassley’s office explaining his opposition to Halligan. As general counsel in the Manhattan district attorney’s office and a former solicitor general in New York, she appears qualified for the job. This Associated Press report quotes Grassley on some of his reasons:

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said “there is a lot at stake with nominations to this (D.C. Circuit) court” because its judges have frequently been considered – and elevated – to the Supreme Court. Halligan is 44.

Grassley then launched into the partisan history of the Republican attempt to fill the seat after Roberts left the District of Columbia appellate court.

President George W. Bush in June 2006 nominated Peter Keisler, who served as a top Justice Department official and for a time was acting attorney general.

“Mr. Keisler was eminently qualified to serve on that court,” Grassley said. “He had a distinguished academic and professional record. Despite his qualifications, Mr. Keisler waited 918 days for a committee vote, which never came.”

Grassley said six of Bush’s nominees, including Roberts, endured “delays, filibusters, multiple hearings, and other forms of obstruction.”

He contended that Halligan signed a report by New York City’s bar association panel that objected to military detentions of suspected terrorists. Grassley said Halligan had a role in state lawsuits “attempting to hold handgun manufacturers liable for criminal acts committed with handguns.”

Charlie Savage and Raymond Hernandez discussed the Senate vote on Halligan in this New York Times article:

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, led the Republican Party’s opposition to the nomination, saying Ms. Halligan’s record demonstrated that she viewed the court as a means of advancing a social agenda instead of as a forum for even-handedly deciding legal questions.

Mr. McConnell argued, for example, that as New York’s solicitor general, Ms. Halligan “advanced the dubious legal theory” that gun manufacturers could be held legally responsible for crimes committed with firearms. Republicans also attacked her on several other issues.

During her confirmation hearing, Ms. Halligan distanced herself from positions she had taken on behalf of clients – saying, for example, that she believed that the Second Amendment protects individuals’ right to bear arms. Republicans, however, questioned whether she had been candid and portrayed her as an extremist.

“We shouldn’t be putting activists on the bench,” Mr. McConnell said. “I think she would use the court to put her activist judicial philosophy into practices, and for that reason alone she shouldn’t be confirmed.”

Senate Democrats strongly criticized the use of the filibuster against Ms. Halligan, who is now the general counsel for the New York County District Attorney’s Office. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, described her as a mainstream and well-qualified legal thinker who was being attacked by “concocted controversies and a blatant misreading” of her record.

The last time Senate Republicans rejected one of Obama’s judicial nominees was in May, when Grassley and his colleagues filibustered Goodwin Liu’s nomination. Liu has since been appointed to the California Supreme Court.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

  • Surprised?

    Are we really surprised? The grave mistake Harry Ried made at the beginning of the US Senate session was to cave on the issue of the 60-vote cloture rule (only agreeing to apply it to some court nominees, as I recall).  What kind of national debate could we have had if the Senate had majority-control vs. the house???  The line could have been plainly drawn and the populace could have  had the chance to make a REAL decision.  

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