WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday hailed the long-delayed confirmation of Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
"I first nominated Rich for this position two years ago this week," Obama said at the White House. "He was eminently qualified. He had the support of Democrats and Republicans from across the country. A majority of state attorneys general from both parties -- Rich's former colleagues -- called on him to be confirmed. And 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.
"But without a director in place, the CFPB would have been severely hampered," the president said. "And the CFPB wasn't able to give consumers the information they needed to make good, informed decisions. Folks in the financial system who were doing the right thing didn't have much certainty or clear rules of the road. And the CFPB didn't have all the tools it needed to protect consumers against mortgage brokers, or credit reporting agencies, or debt collectors who were taking advantage of ordinary Americans."
Obama named Cordray to head the bureau as a recess congressional appointee last year.
"For nearly two years, as the president indicated, we have been focused on making consumer finance markets work better for the American people," Cordray said. "I was sworn in by the Vice President [Joseph Biden] this morning [Wednesday], and the Senate confirmation -- means that there will be certainty for those markets and for the industries we oversee."
Biden performed the swearing-in ceremony less than 24 hours after the U.S. Senate voted 66-34 to confirm Cordray, ending a two-year standoff and heading off implementation of the "nuclear option" against the filibuster.
Twelve Republican senators Tuesday joined Democrats to confirm Cordray, giving the agency its fully empowered chief for the first time in its short history, The Hill reported.
Since 2011, nearly all GOP senators promised to block any nominee to lead the CFPB unless legislation was passed to make the agency accountable to congressional appropriators.
Obama appointed Cordray during a congressional recess.
Republicans backed down in the face of a threat by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to limit the filibuster through the so-called nuclear option, striking a deal to approve Cordray and other nominees that have been in limbo in exchange for not eliminating the filibuster.
U.S. Sen Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Republicans filibustered Cordray "because we don't like the law" that created the CFPB, The Nw York Times reported.
"That's not a reason to deny someone their appointment," Graham said. "We were wrong."
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who led the effort to deny Cordray's confirmation, said his party's capitulation meant Republicans "lost our leverage, if we had any."
Republicans said they're looking toward electoral gains in 2014 and 2016 as their best chance for bringing about changes to the CFPB.
"I think the '14 election is very important to us," Shelby said. "If we got control of the Senate ... that'd be one thing. But we also need a president, and that's '16."
Republicans said they will pursue modest tweaks to the panel that could attract bipartisan support, The Hill said. Soon after Cordray's confirmation, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, unveiled legislation that would create a CFPB inspector general who would require Senate confirmation.
Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, two staunch backers of the CFPB, said Tuesday they would be willing to consider minor fixes to the agency, while noting that major changes sought by Republican's weren't on the table.
"We built a good strong agency, and no one is looking to weaken it," said Warren, the architect of the bureau. "I think we just stand firm there."