President Barack Obama was "finally" able Wednesday morning to welcome the newly sworn-in consumer protection chief he first nominated two years ago.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Richard Cordray Tuesday night as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a 66-34 vote that was the culmination of a bitter fight over presidential nominations.
Cordray was formally sworn in Wednesday morning by Vice President Joe Biden.
In comments marking the occasion, Obama steered away from the larger Senate nomination fight but firmly blamed chamber Republicans for holding up the process specifically for Cordray.
"He was eminently qualified. He had the support of Democrats and Republicans from across the country," Obama said of Cordray's nomination.
"For two years Republicans in the Senate refused to give Rich a simple yes or no vote," Obama said. "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."
Cordray was the first of several presidential nominations likely to get up or down confirmation votes in the coming days, nominations that have been held up for months and in at least one case, years.
Much of the fight has been over nominations to the National Labor Relations Board, which congressional Republicans have targeted for its makeup and authority, which they say has been at the expense of business in favor of unions.
Senate Republicans have repeatedly invoked the threat of a filibuster to block Obama's nominees, a move Democrats simply didn't have the 60 votes they would have needed to counter.
Senate Democrats spent the last week attempting to end the holdup, with Majority Leader Harry Reid threatening to invoke the "nuclear option" that would have eliminated filibuster power over nominations. Republicans said that such a move would have completely ended any pretense at bipartisan comity in the upper chamber.
A deal was finally struck Tuesday that included Democrats dropping two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. Obama quickly responded with two new nominees: Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa.
Part of the holdup leading to the Senate fight came from Republican ire at Obama naming recess appointees, including Cordray, during what Republicans said was an active session of the Senate. Republicans brought a legal challenge that they threatened to take all the way to the Supreme Court.
Obama said that Senate resistance prevented the consumer bureau from doing its job of protecting ordinary Americans. "As a consequence, last year I took steps on my own to temporarily appoint Richard so he could get to work on their behalf," Obama said. "And Americans everywhere are better off because he did."
Obama thanked Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for finally striking a deal.
Even before Cordray's confirmation, the bureau has managed to ensure Americans get $400 million in refunds, Obama said, in addition to addressing 175,000 consumer complaints against financial institutions. "We've made real strides even despite the fact that the agency was hampered because of the confirmation process," he said.