WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will nominate Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general who was a leader in state crackdowns on financial industry abuses, to head a new federal consumer watchdog agency that begins operations this week.
Obama will announce Cordray’s nomination to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday.
However, the president’s decision to bypass Elizabeth Warren, the bureau’s architect, whose candidacy has been fiercely opposed by the banking industry, may not mean an easier Senate confirmation fight.
In May, 44 of 47 Senate Republicans sent Obama a letter threatening to block the appointment of any proposed agency chief unless there are changes to require more “accountability and transparency” from the bureau. If the Republicans hold firm, Democrats would lack the 60 votes they would need to proceed with Cordray’s confirmation.
“The White House still hasn’t addressed the concerns raised by Congress,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Congress created the agency in response to the subprime mortgage scandal that crashed the U.S. housing market, sank the economy and cost millions of Americans their homes. Established under the Dodd-Frank Act, which strengthened regulation of the financial industry, the bureau was granted independence and broad authority to investigate big financial companies like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase on any issue affecting consumers.
Obama, in a written statement, said Cordray “has spent his career advocating for middle-class families, from his tenure as Ohio’s attorney general to his most recent role as heading up the enforcement division at the CFPB and looking out for ordinary people in our financial system.”
Consumer groups and their allies, who elevated Warren to something of a folk hero for her crusade to better protect average Americans from sophisticated financial practices, seemed mollified by the decision.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, said the labor umbrella group is disappointed that Obama gave in to Republicans and “the financial interests that ruined our economy.” But he said that Cordray has “an outstanding record of protecting the public interest.”
Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which collected 350,000 petition signatures backing Warren for the job, said that while Warren “was the best qualified . . . Rich Cordray has been a strong ally of Elizabeth Warren’s and we hope he will continue her legacy of holding Wall Street accountable.”
Warren, widely credited with conceiving the agency and forging its creation, has been as an adviser to Obama and to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. She recruited Cordray to be the bureau’s enforcement chief after he lost his re-election campaign in Ohio last fall.
Even before it opens for business, the agency has been pushing credit card providers and mortgage lenders to simplify their forms and disclosures so consumers can better understand all fees and compare loan offers.
While Warren has sought a lower profile in recent months, she was called before a House committee and faced hostile Republican representatives.
In their May letter, Republicans complained that the bureau director has a five-year term and “effectively answers to no one,” even setting the agency’s budget without congressional review.
Obama said the reforms adopted after the economic crash, including creation of the new bureau, “put in place the strongest consumer protections in our nation’s history.”
He thanked Warren “not only for her extraordinary work standing up the new agency over the past year, but also for her many years of impassioned leadership and her fierce defense of a simple idea: Ordinary people deserve to be treated fairly and honestly in their financial dealings.”