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Senate steps back from brink in nominations fight

From Beacon Journal wire reports

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ending a nearly three-year fight.

The 66-34 vote lifts the threat of legal challenges to the bureau’s rules and enforcement actions since some of the agency’s powers, including those over non-bank financial firms, take effect only under a confirmed director. Cordray has been in office by virtue of a recess appointment that bypassed the Senate.

“The political stalemate is over,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who conceived the idea for the agency and was President Barack Obama’s first choice to lead it. “There is no doubt the consumer agency will survive beyond the crib.”

Banks and financial firms opposed creation of the bureau, which was established with the explicit aim of regulating the kind of risky consumer financial products that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

Ohio’s senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, voted for Cordray’s appointment.

Cordray, the agency’s first enforcement chief, was nominated twice and waited more than 700 days for a Senate confirmation vote. In exchange for proceeding with Cordray’s confirmation, President Barack Obama agreed to nominate two new candidates to the National Labor Relations Board.

The Senate agreed to quick action on other nominations and finessed a Democratic threat to overturn historic rules that protect minority-party rights.

“Nobody wants to come to Armageddon here,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat whose talks with Arizona Republican John McCain were critical in avoiding a collision that had threatened to plunge the Senate even deeper into partisan gridlock.

McCain told reporters that forging the deal was “probably the hardest thing I’ve been involved in.”

In a written statement, Obama said he was pleased by the developments and that he hoped Congress would “build on this spirit of cooperation” to pass immigration legislation and rein in interest rates on student loans, among other measures.

As part of Tuesday’s agreement, both parties preserved their rights to resume combat over nominations in the future, Republicans by delaying votes and Democrats by threatening once again to change the rules governing such delays.

Still, officials in both parties said they hoped the deal would signal a new, less acrimonious time for the Senate, with critical decisions ahead on spending, the government’s borrowing authority, student loan interest rates and more.

Under the agreement, several of seven stalled nominees would win confirmation later in the week, including Labor Secretary-designate Tom Perez; Gina McCarthy, named to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Fred Hochberg to head the Export-Import Bank.

Obama agreed to replace Richard Griffin and Sharon Clark, his previous nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. In their places, Obama nominated Nancy Schiffer, a former top lawyer for the AFL-CIO, and Kent Hirozawa, counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said their appointments would be reviewed and voted on in committee on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.