President Barack Obama moved Monday to get a new consumer protection bureau up and running, introducing a former Ohio attorney general as director, in an apparent acknowledgment that the woman who masterminded the agency couldn't win Senate confirmation.
In a Rose Garden ceremony under sunny skies, Obama announced he has chosen Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. At the same time, Obama vowed to resist any efforts to block its work.
"We are going to stand up this bureau and ensure it is doing the right thing for middle-class families all across the country," the president said.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was a central feature of a law Congress passed last year that overhauled the rules that govern the financial sector. The agency will serve as a government watchdog over mortgages, credit cards and other forms of lending when it officially begins its work on July 21.
Obama and Cordray were joined by Elizabeth Warren, a special assistant to the president who had been charged with getting the agency started. Warren is widely considered the architect of the bureau, and consumer groups wanted her to be named as its leader. But she was strongly opposed by Republicans and would have faced a difficult path to confirmation.
The president applauded Warren's work as an advocate for the American public.
"She's become perhaps the leading voice in our country on behalf of consumers," he said. "She's done it while facing some very tough opposition."
Some progressive groups, while complimentary of Cordray, made their continued preference for Warren known.
"With her track record of standing up to Wall Street and fighting for consumers, Elizabeth Warren was the best qualified to lead the bureau that she conceived," said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
The White House deflected questions about whether Obama chose Cordray to lead the bureau to avoid a protracted fight for Warren.
"The president is focused on moving this forward and he thinks Richard Cordray is the absolute right person to do the job," Obama spokesman Jay Carney said.
But Republicans have already threatened to block Senate confirmation for Cordray as well. The 52-year-old is considered a Warren ally and has been working with her as director of enforcement for the agency.
Republicans fought fiercely against the creation of the bureau last year and have been trying to place restrictions on its work. In May, all Senate Republicans joined in a letter to Obama threatening to withhold their support for any nominee to the position if the White House didn't seek significant changes to the agency.
Warren said there were already adequate restrictions placed on the agency, and it was time for lawmakers to move on.
"We had this fight," she said. "The agency is here to do a job, a job that desperately needs to be done."
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reiterated Republican opposition to the bureau in its current form, saying "we'll insist on serious reforms to bring accountability and transparency to the agency before we consider any nominee to run it."
The financial industry has also expressed concerns about the agency, worrying that it would restrict new products just when companies are seeking to replace profits squeezed by the new financial rules.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it had deep concerns over how Cordray would use the agency's "broad powers."
Julie Pace can be reached at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC.