Obama: I'll fight to protect Wall Street reform

President Barack Obama announces the nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, right, to serve as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Monday, July 18, 2011, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

President Obama on Monday officially announced the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, promising to protect the bureau and other elements of his Wall Street reform bill from its opponents seeking to roll back the legislation.

"I will fight any efforts to repeal or undermine the important changes that we passed," Mr. Obama said. "And we are going to stand up this bureau and make sure it is doing the right thing for middle-class families all across the country."

The president said that some members of Congress, aided by "an army of lobbyists and lawyers," want to "water down" the overhaul of Wall Street rules passed last year.

"We're not going to let that happen," he said. "The fact is the financial crisis and the recession were not the result of normal economic cycles or just a run of bad luck. They were abuses and there was a lack of smart regulations."

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which officially begins its oversight and regulatory work on July 21, was a key component of the president's Wall Street reform package. Proponents of the new agency wanted its creator, Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, to take the helm.

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Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, has served as the agency's director of enforcement for the past six months and is considered a close ally of Warren's. Liberals and consumer advocates reacted positively to his nomination.

Mr. Obama today praised Warren's work in setting up the agency and said he tasked Warren with helping him "find the best possible choice for director of the bureau."

Had the president nominated Warren, she would have surely faced fierce Republican opposition during the Senate confirmation process. Mr. Obama acknowledged as much today.

Warren has "become perhaps the leading voice in our country on behalf of consumers," Mr. Obama said. "And let's face it -- she's done it while facing some very tough opposition and drawing a fair amount of heat."

But Cordray's nomination won't be a walk in the park, either. Republicans have vowed to block any bureau chief nominee until Mr. Obama allows for significant changes within the agency, such as replacing the individual bureau director with a board of leaders. They also want to make the bureau's finances subject to congressional approval.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, said specifically the GOP would block Cordray's nomination unless they saw changes to the agency.

"Until President Obama addresses our concerns by supporting a few reasonable structural changes, we will not confirm anyone to lead it," he said. "No accountability, no confirmation."

While the Republican-led opposition to the agency remains strong, the president praised Cordray for his record of bipartisanship.

Mr. Obama also noted that Cordray was a five-time "Jeopardy" champion in the 1980's.

"That's why all his answers at his confirmation hearings will be in the form of a question," Mr. Obama said. After a pause, he added, "That's a joke."