Matt Damon recently voiced frustration with President Obama that many progressives have felt over the course of his term. “A one-term president with some balls who actually got stuff done would have been, in the long run of the country, much better,” he said.
From the Bush tax cuts to the debt ceiling negotiations this summer, Obama has repeatedly faced criticism for bending too easily to Congressional Republicans’ intransigence, even when their policies seem almost sure to do the country harm.
Yesterday, the longed-for balls were on display as Obama installed his nominee to lead the Consumer Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray, despite the Senate having blocked his nomination at a hearing last month.
This was predictable: Cordray’s appointment was expected to be blocked by Senate Republicans as soon as he was named last July—part of their tactic of blocking any successful initiative by the president in hopes of making him look unilaterally ineffective.
Yesterday Obama, apparently fed up with the whole process, went ahead and installed Cordray anyway by using Constitutional clause that grants presidents executive powers during times that Congress is in recess. Senate Republicans had adopted a motion to keep Congress showing up for work during the break so that Congress would technically remain open for business and Obama’s executive powers wouldn’t apply. “Congressional Republicans refused to adopt a resolution to formally adjourn and senators have appeared every three days for a brief pro forma session,” writes Bloomberg.
But the Obama Administration called these “pro forma” sessions a “gimmick” and insist that Congress is indeed out of session, and he’s therefore allowed to make any appointments he wants without Senate approval.
On one hand you could argue that this isn’t really the show of balls Matt Damon was asking for because there’s not a huge PR downside for Obama and therefore not a huge risk. Getting someone to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is probably the most voter-friendly, champion of the people initiative imaginable in a bad economy. Even if his recess appointment ends up being found unconstitutional, he’ll still look like he went to bat for ordinary Americans.
On the other hand, the move was bold enough to ruffle some feathers: Fox News said the move “mocks the Constitution” and John Boehner called it an “extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab.”
What’s more, the aggressive move to bypass Congress could make it harder for him to get nominees appointed over the next year. In that regard, it looks like Obama was indeed willing to place a bet that getting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau working was worth that risk.
What do you think, Matt Damon? Is the prez finally exhibiting some chutzpa, or is he only sticking his neck out when he knows it won’t get chopped off?