Senate clears way for Cordray confirmation as consumer bureau chief

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Tuesday cleared the way for Richard Cordray to be confirmed as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after Democrats and Republicans struck a tentative agreement to avoid a confrontation over the use of filibusters on presidential nominees.

Senators voted 71-29 to halt debate on the nomination of Cordray, who already is serving as the bureau's director after a controversial recess appointment.

The key procedural move, which required 60 votes, paves the way for Cordray to be confirmed as early as Tuesday with just a simple majority. Cordray, who generally has drawn bipartisan praise for his work as director, has enough support to be confirmed.

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"After more than 700 days of waiting, Rich Cordray will finally get the confirmation vote he deserves from the U.S. Senate," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who helped launch the agency.

"With Director Cordray's confirmation, we will be able to say loudly, clearly, and with confidence: The consumer agency is the law of the land and is here to stay," she said.

Cordray's confirmation had been blocked since late 2011 by nearly all Senate Republicans, who had been demanding significant changes to the bureau's structure and power.

Democrats and the White House opposed those changes, arguing they would weaken the bureau.

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In the face of Republican opposition, President Obama installed Cordray as the bureau's director in January 2012 with a recess appointment while the Senate was on a short break.

The appointment left a legal cloud over the bureau, which was the centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Cordray's recess appointment expires at the end of the year, far short of the five-year director's term set in the law.

Nearly all Republicans opposed the creation of the bureau, as had most of the financial industry, and had used the threat of a filibuster to block the confirmation of any nominee to be director.

Senate Republicans said the agency was too powerful and threatened to become too involved in the financial dealings of consumers through new rules on products and services.

"The lack of accountability and congressional oversight over the bureau’s budget and director is troubling to say the least," Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said Tuesday as he continued to oppose the nomination.

"Wait until his confirmation and you’ll see more intrusion into your personal life," Enzi said. "Until [the law is] changed and this man doesn't have this much power, more power beyond anybody else in the federal government, I have to oppose this nomination and I hope my colleagues will join me."

The Republicans want the single-director position replaced by a bipartisan board similar to those that run most other government agencies. And GOP senators also want the bureaus's funding to be part of the congressional appropriations process instead of flowing directly from the Federal Reserve.

But facing the threat from Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to change Senate filibuster rules, some Republicans relented and agreed to allow Cordray's nomination to move forward.

"This is a gesture of good faith," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has opposed Cordray's nomination but voted Tuesday to allow a confirmation vote.

Seventeen Republicans and two indepedents joined with all the Senate's Democrats in voting to advance Cordray's nomination.

Reid was threatening to change the rules to allow a simple majority vote to cut off debate on presidential nominees.

On the same day last year Cordray was appointed, Obama also installed three members of the National Labor Relations Board using recess appointments. That move, which took place when the Senate was holding pro forma sessions, was overturned by a federal court.

The Obama administration appealed and the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case. Although the case did not directly involve Cordray, analysts believed his appointment also was threatened by the case.

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