Senate Republicans — including Maine’s two senators — voted Thursday in Washington, D.C., to block the confirmation of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Both Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe voted for the financial reform bill last year that, among other things, created a new federal bureau designed to prevent future government bailouts and protect consumers against bad practices by credit card companies, lenders and brokers.
However, the bureau remains relatively powerless until its director is confirmed by Congress.
On Thursday, Collins voted against the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the new bureau, while Snowe voted “present,” which had the same effect as a “no” vote.
In order to close off debate and end a GOP filibuster, 60 senators needed to vote to move the confirmation forward. That vote failed 53-45.
Collins and Snowe were among 42 Republican senators who signed a letter earlier this year indicating they would block any nominee until the White House agreed to changes in the bureau’s structure.
Collins said her vote on Thursday does not mean she doesn’t support the financial reform law or the creation of the consumer protection bureau.
“But I am opposed to confirming a nominee to head the consumer agency until we correct its serious structural flaws,” she said. “It is inconceivable that, in this time of tight budgets, we would create a new agency that is completely unaccountable in terms of its budget. This has nothing to do with Mr. Cordray with whom I met last week. He’s clearly a qualified individual with a good reputation. It has everything to do with accountability for how money is spent in government.”
Sen. Snowe explained in a statement why she voted “present.”
“I voted for the Dodd-Frank Act because the excesses of Wall Street caused the financial collapse that nearly plunged the U.S. economy into a prolonged depression. Clearly, I recognized that we required systemic changes to our nation’s financial industry,” she said. “That legislation created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This new agency will affect thousands of industries, one of which my husband happens to be associated with, which involves student loans. As such, I do not feel it is appropriate to vote on this nomination given the debate on the Senate floor raising questions about the CFPB’s role in regulating those industries.”
Snowe’s husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan, is chairman of the board of Education Management, a national for-profit group that runs 104 colleges in 31 states.
Maine Democrats were disappointed by the vote and were particularly critical of Snowe.
“First it was a vote against tens of thousands of jobs, then it was a vote against tax cuts for the middle class, and now, when Mainers truly needed [Snowe’s] support, she refused to take a stand and allowed the rest of her caucus to put Wall Street and electoral politics ahead of Maine consumers and the security of our economy,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant.
Former Maine Attorney General and current vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party Janet Mills called the vote “a slap in the face to Maine families whose lives have been rocked by debt collection practices and by the unregulated abuses of financial institutions which contributed to our nation’s economic collapse.”
Aside from Snowe, the only other Republican senator who did not vote to block Cordray’s confirmation was Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Brown’s Democratic opponent in the 2012 Senate race is Elizabeth Warren, who largely created the CFPB.
President Obama also expressed disappointment Thursday about the Senate’s vote.
“The majority of attorney generals, Republican and Democrat, from across the country have said this is somebody who can do the job with integrity, who has a tradition of being a bipartisan individual who looks out for the public interest, and is ready to go,” he said. “There is no reason why Mr. Cordray should not be nominated, and should not be confirmed by the Senate, and should not be doing his job right away in order to carry out his mandate and his mission.”
The president vowed that he would keeping pushing for Cordray’s confirmation but he may need to address concerns from Senate Republicans, including Collins.
“I am disappointed that rather than make any overture to remedy the serious concerns that have been raised, the White House instead chose to make this a partisan issue,” Collins said.