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Portman Seeks Path to Break Impasse on Cordray Nomination

Sen. Rob Portman has been conferring with Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as part of an effort to clear the way for his Senate confirmation and avert a Democratic threat to use the “nuclear option” to curb filibusters.

A senior GOP aide said Tuesday that the Ohio Republican had talks with Cordray in recent weeks and had brought together some Democratic and Republican senators to seek common ground on changes within the CFPB that could address GOP concerns about the independent financial regulatory agency.

For example, the aide said, Portman suggested the idea of creating an inspector general within the CFPB.

It’s unclear whether such changes would satisfy broader concerns among Republicans about the agency created under the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul (PL 111-203). GOP senators filibustered against Cordray’s confirmation in 2011 and are opposing him again after President Barack Obama installed him under a recess appointment in January 2012 and then renominated him this year.

Cordray visited the Senate on May 23 and snagged Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, a senior Banking Committee member, just off the Senate floor. Shelby made clear to Cordray his concerns about whether Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada would engineer a mid-session Senate rule change to impasse on Obama’s renomination of Cordray.

“I hope he wouldn’t use it,” Shelby said. “But if he does, that changes the whole Senate.”

In a brief interview while meeting on Capitol Hill with Republicans skeptical about his confirmation, Cordray made clear that he had no information on the timing of a Senate vote or any efforts to clear the way. A CFPB spokesman declined comment on the meetings or his stance on changes sought by Portman.

Shelby’s query to Cordray underscored the tensions on both sides of the aisle as top party leaders spar over Reid’s threat to use tough parliamentary tactics to break a GOP blockade and nominations. Reid has made clear that he is taking a hard look at the nuclear option — allowing a simple majority vote, rather than the usual 67-vote threshold — to change Senate rules by sustaining or overturning a parliamentary ruling by the presiding officer.

“The Republicans have obstructed the president’s nominees,” Reid said last week. “This has created an unworkable standard where minor issues are raised to block major nominees or require a 60-vote supermajority for nomination. I hope things work out in the Senate [so] that we don’t have to go through any more procedural battles here, but things are not working well.”

Reid cited Cordray and several other contentious nominations as examples of alleged GOP obstruction. They include Thomas Perez for Labor secretary, Gina McCarthy for Environmental Protection Agency administrator and three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

Cordray and the three NLRB members sit below Cabinet secretary rank, but they have emerged as major figures in the confirmation standoff between Republicans and Democrats.

Whatever Cordray tells Republicans in his rounds in the Senate about his performance, however, is unlikely to sway any GOP senators. Opposition to his confirmation isn’t really about Cordray himself or the job he has done in the year he has held the position under a recess appointment. In fact, Cordray has won praise from the banking industry for thoughtful, evenhanded rule-making, and some industry lobbyists worry that they could do worse with a replacement. The GOP is united in opposition to Cordray because the party opposes the structure of the independent agency, formed to represent consumer interests in financial regulation. Republicans want it rebuilt as a multimember commission that is funded through regular congressional appropriations.

Long Time Coming

Cordray’s presence atop CFPB has been controversial since he received a recess appointment along with three members of the NLRB last year. The naming of the four officials was Obama’s challenge to the use of pro forma sessions to block recess appointments when lawmakers are away from Washington.

A federal court has held that the NLRB appointments were not legal. Although Cordray does not face his own court test, some GOP lawmakers have challenged his standing to manage the CFPB while the NLRB case awaits a Supreme Court appeal.

Reid attacked the blocking tactics for targeting political goals, not qualifications.

“Richard Cordray is a perfect example. He was nominated by the president of the United States almost two years ago, 23 months ago. The Republicans aren’t concerned about his ability to do the job. They’re afraid, I guess, he can do his job too well,” Reid said.

“If he received an up-or-down vote here today, he would be approved in a millisecond.”

A senior Democrat said Reid and his team were weighing whether to try to limit filibusters. The lawmaker said procedural changes could be on the table after the Senate finishes work on immigration legislation, possibly by July.

“There could be fireworks in July,” the lawmaker said. Such pyrotechnics likely would precede the most contentious nominees, such as Cordray, Perez and McCarthy.

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