WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has been careful in its handling of the Occupy Wall Street movement, expressing sympathy with the sentiment behind it but never going so far as to formally endorse it. But on financial regulatory and consumer protection issues, there is a clear -- and inviting -- overlap between politics and the protests.
On Thursday, top members of the Obama administration's communications and economic team held a conference call designed to put pressure on Senate Republicans to confirm Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The call highlighted testimony from the CFPB's head of Servicemember Affairs Holly Petraeus, wife of general David Petraeus, in which she argued that an understaffed CFPB left family members of veterans vulnerable to predatory payday lenders and debt collectors.
At one point during the call, the question was raised: to what extent has the Occupy Wall Street movement affected the politics of Cordray's stalled nomination?
"I don't think that we are going to speculate on the impact of Occupy Wall Street on Republican senators," Deputy Senior Advisor to the President Stephanie Cutter said, cautiously.
"The sentiments that lots of people who are out there as part of 'Occupy Wall Street' have -- not just on Wall Street but on Main Streets across the country -- those sentiments are shared by lots of Americans," she added. "Having Richard Cordray in place obviously would help them."
This is about as close as the administration has come to pointing out ideological symmetry between the president's agenda and the Occupy Wall Street movement. And it makes sense. Elizabeth Warren, who before launching a Senate campaign in Massachusetts helped set up the CFPB, has declared that her life's mission is shared by the OWS protesters. For that, she's been abjectly criticized.
Occupy Wall Street remains a phenomenon that's very much removed from Capitol Hill, with Congress not sure whether to conceptually embrace it or call it a mob. The 44 Republican Senators that have pledged to oppose Cordray's nomination unless the CFBP is restructured haven't indicated they're backing down from that threat. Meanwhile, with just six weeks left in the current congressional term, the window to get Cordray through the Senate is closing.
On the call, the administration officials insisted that they were not considering a recess appointment, which would allow the president to fill the vacancy for a limited period of time without congressional approval.
"We have an opportunity to confirm Richard Cordray as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the United States Senate and if Republicans would take away their block on him ... Unless Republicans break that block we are not going to be able to move forward on a vote."