President Barack Obama introduced former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray today as his choice to lead the new consumer protection agency, saying Cordray would be an advocate for people who can't afford to hire "teams of lawyers from blue-chip law firms."
Obama and Cordray appeared together at the White House alongside Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor who as an Obama adviser has worked to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some Democratic congressmen and consumer lobbying groups had hoped Obama would nominate Warren to head up the bureau, but Warren has praised Cordray’s selection.
Cordray, who now faces the Senate confirmation process, served as Ohio’s attorney general as a Democrat from 2009 until this year. He lost reelection in November. Previously, he served as Ohio’s treasurer and as its solicitor general. He clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court for two terms in the 1980s, for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy.
In brief remarks, Obama praised Cordray’s qualifications and said Cordray would help to simplify the financial system for consumers.
“They shouldn’t have to be a corporate lawyer in order to be able to read something they’re signing to take out a mortgage or to get a credit card,” Obama said, in one of a few pointed comments about corporate lawyers. He said that middle-class families, unlike financial institutions, do not benefit from having “teams of lawyers from blue-chip law firms.”
Obama also said the 2008 financial crisis occurred in part because of lax regulation, and he said he would fight against attempts to change the 2010 regulatory overhaul known as the Dodd-Frank Act. “There is an army of lobbyists and lawyers right now working to water down the protections and the reforms that we passed,” Obama said. “We’re not going to let that happen.”
Cordray made no remarks, but in March 2010, he appeared in Washington with other state attorneys general to support the idea of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He compared the idea to the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1972. “What we have now seen, in this generation, is that financial products can be just as hazardous to the health and safety and well-being of households as other products, and we need protection at the federal level,” Cordray said then.
Since leaving his Ohio post, Cordray has been the bureau’s head of enforcement, as “one of the first people” Warren recruited, Obama said.
Obama took note of one other piece of Cordray’s background: He was a five-time champion on the television quiz show Jeopardy! Obama quipped, “All his answers at his confirmation hearing will be in the form of a question.”