President Obama said Wednesday that the official swearing-in of Richard Cordray as director of the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will guard against "a few bad apples in the financial sector" ripping off middle-class consumers.
At a White House event, Mr. Obama hailed the Senate's confirmation of Mr. Cordray after a two-year battle over Republicans' objections to the new agency's powers. Shortly after averting a showdown over filibuster rules, senators approved Mr. Cordray's nomination Tuesday night by a 66-34 vote.
"Together, we're giving Americans a guarantee that the protections they enjoy today will still be around next year ... and for years to come," Mr. Obama said. "Middle-class folks deserve leaders who are going to stand up for them."
Mr. Cordray, a former state attorney general in Ohio, said the Senate vote and his swearing-in by Vice President Joseph R. Biden reaffirms that "our central responsibility is to stand on the side of consumers and see that they're treated fairly." His agency now has about 1,200 employees and its office, a block from the White House, is undergoing costly renovation plans.
Democrats said Mr. Cordray's official installation lifts a major legal cloud hanging over both Mr. Cordray and the independent agency, created in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill.
Mr. Obama's recess appointment of Mr. Cordray in December 2012 has been challenged by Republicans in court.
"There is no doubt the consumer agency will survive beyond the crib," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and a prime architect of the CFPB before her election to the Senate in 2012, told reporters Tuesday.
The Senate broke the logjam over Mr. Cordray and other nominees Tuesday in an agreement that saw the president withdraw two controversial nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. Republicans agreed to confirm Mr. Obama's replacement nominees to the NLRB before the August congressional recess.
Democrats, in turn, shelved their plans to change Senate rules and curtail filibusters.
The Senate also voted Wednesday, 82-17, to approve Mr. Obama's nomination of Fred Hochberg for a second term as head of the Export-Import Bank. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said final votes are likely Thursday on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency and on Thomas E. Perez to lead the Labor Department.
Mr. Perez's nomination cleared a test vote Thursday by the barest of margins, 60 to 40, despite opposition from Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, who urged colleagues to vote against the former head of the Justice Department's civil rights division. The nominee needed 60 votes to proceed to a final vote on confirmation.
Mr. Obama hailed Mr. Cordray, who has been leading the CFPB in a temporary capacity, for combating a "winner-take-all philosophy" in the financial sector.
"The financial sector was able to make huge bets with other people's money," Mr. Obama said. "Mortgages were sold that people really didn't understand and in some cases couldn't afford. That strain of irresponsibility eventually came crashing down on all of us."
The CFPB has the authority to enforce consumer laws. In June, for example, the agency ordered Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp and a partner company to return $6.5 million to as many as 50,000 active-duty military service members for engaging in what the agency called "deceptive marketing and lending practices" in the firms' "Military Installment Loans and Educational Services" auto loan programs.
The agency found that the bank didn't disclose a loan fee, and also failed to tell consumers that payments were due twice a month.
"Americans are better off because of what Rich has done," Mr. Obama said. "Our system is fairer and it is more sound than when the crisis hit."
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