How did the GOP defeat their democratic colleagues who hold a majority in the Senate? They used the filibuster — the congressional equivalent of a spoiled child taking his ball and going home — the tried and true method whereby a super-majority of 60 votes is required to end the debate of a bill.
Unable to break the filibuster, the senate could not even proceed to an up-or-down vote to confirm Mr. Cordray.
At the time, President Obama vowed to proceed saying:
“We will not allow politics as usual on Capitol Hill to stand in the way of American consumers being protected from unscrupulous operators.”
However, it was not clear what solutions were available to the President at the time.
Under normal circumstances, Obama could have easily appointed Cordray during a senate recess.
But these are not normal times.
Working hard to hardly work
To block these recess appointments, Republicans have been holding pro formasessions. Typically lasting seconds or minutes, pro forma sessions are an administrative maneuver designed solely to obstruct the legislative progress. No business is conducted — many Senators have gone back to their districts for example — nor is any intended.
In this way, the GOP had hoped to continue to indefinitely block the nomination of Cordray and thus the activities of the CFPB.
That all changed last week when the President decided that pro forma sessions did not constitute a legitimate session of the Senate.
Armed with this legal opinion, Obama thus declared Senate to not be in session and proceeded with the recess appointment of Cordray.
In the latest case of manufactured outrage, the GOP yesterday released — via our very own Representative James 'Jimmy' Sensenbrenner (R-WI) — an opinion piece slamming President Obama for an “unprecedented power grab”.
Jimmy went on to accuse the President of"
"[...expanding] executive branch powers to his liking by using administrative rules to change policies when he has failed to pass his agenda through the legislative process.”
What’s really rich here is Jimmy’s ability to ignore the two apparently acceptable administrative procedures — the filibuster and pro forma sessions — that got us into the ridiculous situation of having legally created a federal bureau that cannot be put into effect as the agency head has not been confirmed.
Only a disingenuous fool would thus accuse the President of “my way or the highway” gamesmanship.
Voting to confirm or not confirm the nominee is the very definition of the President complying with Congressional oversight!
So when faced with a perpetual block of his nominee the President found an administrative solution to the problem.
Fear, fear and more fear
Setting aside the clear irony of Obama’s success in this battle and the hypocrisy of Jimmy's comments, there is of course a political motive to publishing this sort of drivel — it’s another chance to get people agitated while pouring over the ever-so-carefully placed buzz words.
In 2004, it was the threat of terrorism. Now it’s the threat of big government, executive overreach and tyranny, juxtaposed obtusely with another hot-button issue: immigration reform.
The GOP know that both the passive and explicit racism that drives a not-so-small faction of the Republican base will be terrified of a black man flaunting the Constitution and opening the Southern border to hoards of illegal Mexicans.
So terrified, in fact, that they will be blinded from the real truth — that politicians in general, and folks like Jimmy in particular, are not beholden the electorate, but rather to special interests.
How else could you explain any political opinion article that begins by complaining about a policy designed to protect consumers and concludes with verbal philosophical diarrhea about “...protecting American liberty...”.
How little Jimmy must think of his proponents to serve up something so obviously detrimental to the average citizen and try to spin it as something positive. It's lipstick on a pig and nothing more.
He might as well walk into a Town Hall meeting and try to convince folks struggling with underwater mortgages that regulating the financial services industry is bad for the economy.
I mean with friends like that, who needs enemies?!?
The Supreme Court of Public Opinion
The other motive for attacking Obama in the court of public opinion is that the GOP know their pro forma sessions are complete crap and would not withstand judicial scrutiny.
The Department of Justice has just recently released a memo stating that the pro forma sessions:
“...do not interrupt the intrasession recess in a manner that would preclude the President from determining that the Senate remains unavailable throughout to ‘receive communications from the President or participate as a body in making appointments.’”
Translation? Sit down and eat your humble pie.
The Supreme Court may also be supportive of recess appointment powers according to a statement made recently (2010) by Chief Justice Roberts.
Even the US Chamber of Commerce — who had also previously spoken out against Cordray’s appointment — has backed away from challenging the case in court.
Cutting through the crap
But let’s be clear: the GOP are not backing away from this fight because of some legal setbacks. The longer they delay the CFPB from doing its job, the better chance they have to water it down even more than it already has been.
Slowing down the implementation of this new agency is win-win regardless of any legal outcome.
The real reason they are backing away is that Obama has been painting the GOP as corporate-friendly obstructionists as part of his reelection strategy.
Unfortunately for the GOP, he’s got them dead to rights and the public agree. Congressional approval ratings (see image, above) at 13% show that this narrative is polling well.
And with the economy showing some real signs of improvement, the GOP are scared to give Obama too much ammunition by opposing Cordray’s appointment with a legal challenge.
Out of options
So having been out-maneuvered by the President and with no practical options remaining, the GOP wrote an obvious and juvenile Obama attack ad disguised as a policy piece and had their lapdog Jimmy put his name on the bottom.
They are hoping this will distract you from what’s really going on - the economy is improving and the GOP have done absolutely nothing to contribute.
Unless of course you count negative contributions such as trying to stall and dismantle financial protection for consumers.
Shit rolls downhill, Jimmy, and you’re in the creek without a paddle.
Editor's Note: This blog was updated to fix an error at 11:15 on Jan. 18.