With the Senate on sabbatical for the foreseeable future, there's not much that is getting done in Washington. But luckily, there are a few tricks written into the constitution for just such a time. And Obama has used one of them to appoint Richard Cordray as the head of the CFPB.
There are a few things of note here. First, Cordray had been interviewed by the Senate, and they all seemed to like him. But Senate Republicans have been blocking any person from directing the CFPB until they get the changes made to the agency that they want. They have demanded that the agency, which oversees the private sector to reduce fraudulent practices, be overseen by members of the private sector who will have jurisdiction over it. Furthermore, they demand to have direct control over the CFPB's funding. The prevailing wisdom would point out that these measures would essentially nullify the effect of the agency from the beginning, making it a useless and ineffective government bureau. So, the only thing that the Republicans have to complain about, really, is that the agency designed to protect the American People will be able to do its job, which is kind of a silly thing to complain about....
Secondly, as you'll see in the article, law experts have pointed out that Obama's use of this executive maneuver is not only commonplace for Presidents, but that Obama has only used this ability a fraction of the number of times that other recent Presidents, such as Bush and Clinton used it. What's ironic about that is that the GOP leaders of the House and Senate have been up in arms over this appointment, calling it "an extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab by President Obama that defies centuries of practice and the legal advice of his own Justice Department," according to John Boehner, who also said, "This action goes beyond the President's authority, and I expect the courts will find the appointment to be illegitimate." It's an interesting presumption, but it is also incorrect, as I'm sure Boehner knows. After all, Bush Jr. pulled the same stunt 170 times in eight years (to date, Obama has used it 28; Clinton went 140 in two terms). This power, called a Recess Apppointment, is one of the few powers outlined explicitly in the Constitution, which should satisfy any of those pesky constitutionalists out there. And Boehner should know this.
The Republicans had a plan when they left Congress for their long break. Instead of allowing Obama the satisfaction of a fully recessed Senate that would allow the POTUS to appoint people at his leisure, the GOPers decided for a sneaky tactic called pro-forma sessions. These sessions involve a couple of senators gaveling in and gaveling out in the span of a few seconds, with no business being conducted. For all intents and purposes, the Senate is in recess, but because of these brief "sessions", the GOP was hoping to stop Obama from appointing anyone without Senate approval.
Clearly, this is going to be an interesting debate. It should be clear to most that the appointment is legal, constitutional, and binding. For all intents and purposes, Cordray is the director of the CFPB. I'm sure there will be a legal battle, and I'm sure there will be those who say it's not fair, that it's a break of tradition, and other things like that. But the facts remain, and the powers of the presidency remain, and the law that governs us all remains.