Romney, Santorum bash Obama recess appointment. Why that could backfire.

The Obama administration argues that the recess appointment is necessary so the CFPB can perform its duties despite Republican obstructionism. Republicans may challenge the president in court.

By , Staff writer

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    Richard Cordray listens to remarks by President Obama after being appointed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Cleveland, Ohio, Wednesday. In his first speech on Thursday as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Cordray said his agency will immediately begin overseeing lenders outside the banking industry, and will take a tough stance against any financial players that break the law.
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Republicans in Congress aren't the only ones criticizing President Obama for making a controversial "recess appointment" to install Richard Cordray as head of a new agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

So have the presidential candidates who posted the strongest finishes in the Iowa's Republican caucus Tuesday.

Mitt Romney called the move "Chicago-style politics" that will harm the economy and job growth.

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Rick Santorum said "this is not something that the president should get away with," suggesting that the Senate take Mr. Obama to court to overturn the appointment.

It isn't just the new financial-sector watchdog in the eye of this storm.

Obama followed his appointment of Mr. Cordray Wednesday, during a Senate break, with similar recess appointments to another body that has stirred partisan rancor in recent months: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“This president ... is engaging in crony capitalism,” Mr. Romney said in New Hampshire Thursday, according to a New York Times report. “It is happening with the Labor Relations Board.” Romney's implication is that some of Obama's appointees are aligned ideologically with organized labor.

Romney is also rolling out a TV ad in South Carolina, one of the next primary contests, that criticizes recent labor board decisions.

The Obama administration argues that the appointments to both the labor board and the CFPB are necessary so these bodies can perform their duties despite Republican obstructionism.

"When Congress refuses to act, and as a result, hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them," Obama said in Ohio Wednesday. "I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people that we were elected to serve."

In one sense, the war of words is not surprising.

Republican candidates are criticizing Obama on many fronts these days. And in this case they're joining in a chorus echoed by congressional leaders like Mitch McConnell, the party's leader in the Senate. The Senate is tasked by the Constitution with confirming key presidential appointments.

But the criticism comes from two candidates who hope to occupy the Oval Office, and may someday find themselves in a similar position as Obama. President Bush used the tactic against Democratic opposition, for example.

It also risks playing into Obama's hands politically, at least when it comes to the CFPB. The Obama campaign is pinning its hopes in part on portraying the president as fighting for the middle class, while Republicans cater to allies in big business and on Wall Street.

Republican opposition to the Cordray appointment is centered not on the man himself (a former attorney general of Ohio) but on the very concept of the CFPB, a new agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial reforms enacted in 2010.

Calling the agency an example of over-regulation that can stifle the economy, Republicans have resisted its launch. Romney is among GOP candidates calling for repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act.

That position could open Romney and Republicans to attack from Democrats for their own form of cronyism – allying with Wall Street firms that would like to avoid new layers of regulation. 

In Romney's public statement on the issue Wednesday, the former Massachusetts governor called the new consumer agency "perhaps the most powerful and unaccountable bureaucracy in the history of our nation.... Sadly, instead of focusing on economic growth, [Obama] is once again focusing on creating more regulation, more government, and more Washington gridlock.”

Santorum's comment also came Wednesday. Calling the recess appointments "scary," the former US Senator from Pennsylvania said the Senate "should go and even take the president to court."

A court case could hinge on whether the Senate was technically in recess when Obama made the moves. After holding pro forma sessions every third day, lawmakers can argue they were not in recess.

In his new South Carolina ad, Romney accuses "union stooges" at the NLRB under Obama of making decisions that are motivated by politics rather than worker interests. It's an important issue in a state where the board was, until recently, trying to stop Boeing from setting up a new plant in South Carolina.

The board's general counsel argued that Boeing was illegally retaliating against its union workers by stating that access to non-union labor was a factor in the location of the new plant.

The NLRB recently backed off its legal complaint after Boeing reached an agreement with the main union representing its workers in other parts of the country.

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