President Obama Speaks on Confirming Richard Cordray

The President:
Good morning, everybody. A couple of days ago I said that
we are in a make-or-break moment when it comes to
America’s middle class. We either have a country where
everybody fends for themselves, or we create a country where
everybody does their fair share, everybody has got a fair chance,
and we ensure that there’s fair play out there. Now, to ensure fair play, one of
the things that I talked about was the importance of making
sure we implement financial reform, Wall Street reform
that was passed last year. And a key component of that
was making sure that we have a consumer watchdog in place who
can police what mortgage brokers and payday lenders and other
non-bank financial entities are able to do when it
comes to consumers. This is a big deal. About one-in-five people use
these kinds of mechanisms to finance everything from buying
a house to cashing their checks. And we passed a law last year
that said we need this consumer watchdog in place to make
sure that people aren’t taken advantage of. Now, we have nominated
somebody — Richard Cordray, former attorney general and
treasurer of Ohio — who everybody says is
highly qualified. The majority of
attorney generals, Republican and Democrat, from
across the country have said this is somebody who can
do the job with integrity, who has a tradition of being a
bipartisan individual who looks out for the public interest,
and is ready to go. And he actually helped set
up the Consumer Finance Protection Board. This morning, Senate Republicans
blocked his nomination, refusing to let the Senate
even go forward with an up or down vote on Mr. Cordray. This makes absolutely no sense. Consumers across the country
understand that part of the reason we got into the financial
mess that we did was because regulators were not
doing their jobs. People were not paying attention
to what was happening in the housing market; people weren’t
paying attention to who was being taken advantage of. There were folks who were making
a lot of money taking advantage of American consumers. This individual’s job is to make
sure that individual consumers are protected — everybody from
seniors to young people who are looking for student loans, to
members of our Armed Services who are probably more vulnerable
than just about anybody when it comes to unscrupulous
financial practices. There is no reason why
Mr. Cordray should not be nominated, and should not
be confirmed by the Senate, and should not be doing his job
right away in order to carry out his mandate and his mission. So I just want to send a message
to the Senate: We are not giving up on this. We’re going to keep
on going at it. We are not going to allow
politics as usual on Capitol Hill to stand in the way of
American consumers being protected by unscrupulous
financial operators. And we’re going to keep
on pushing on this issue. Now, the second thing I want
to make clear about is that, with respect to the payroll tax
— you guys have all seen our countdown clock behind us. This is about doing — making
sure that everybody is doing their fair share and that the
middle class does not see their taxes go up by
$1,000 in 23 days. And we’ve heard recently some
intimations from the Senate Majority Leader and from the
Speaker of the House — or the Senate Minority Leader and the
Speaker of the House that they think we should
do a payroll tax, but the question is what price
will they extract from the President in order
to get it done. And I just want to make
clear: This is not about me. They shouldn’t extend the
payroll tax cut for me. They shouldn’t extend
unemployment insurance for me. This is for 160 million
people who, in 23 days, are going to see their taxes
go up if Congress doesn’t act. This is for 5 million
individuals who are out there looking for a job and can’t
find a job right now in a tough economy who could end up not
being able to pay their bills or keep their house if
Congress doesn’t act. So rather than trying to figure
out what can they extract politically from me in order
to get this thing done, what they need to do is be
focused on what’s good for the economy, what’s good for
jobs and what’s good for the American people. And I made very clear I do not
expect Congress to go home unless the payroll tax cut is
extended and unless unemployment insurance is extended. It would be wrong for families,
but it would also be wrong for the economy as a whole. With that, I’m going to take
a couple of questions. Ben. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. It’s a very busy time. If I may, I’d like to ask you
about two other important issues in the news. Republican candidates have taken
aim at your approach to foreign policy, particularly the
Middle East and Israel, and accused you of appeasement. I wanted to get your
reaction to that. And also, I’m wondering if you
personally intervened in any way in halting the sale of the
“morning after” pill to those under 17, and whether you
think politics trumps science in this case. The President:
Ask Osama bin Laden and the
22-out-of-30 top al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken
off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out
there, ask them about that. With respect to the Plan B,
I did not get involved in the process. This was a decision that was
made by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS. I will say this, as the
father of two daughters. I think it is important for us
to make sure that we apply some common sense to various
rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine. And as I understand it, the
reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be
confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old go
into a drugstore, should be able — alongside
bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication
that potentially, if not used properly, could end
up having an adverse effect. And I think most parents would
probably feel the same way. So the expectation here is —
I think it’s very important to understand that, for
women, for those over 17, this continues to be something
that you can go in and purchase from a drugstore. It has been deemed
safe by the FDA. Nobody is challenging that. When it comes to
12-year-olds or 13-year-olds, the question is can we have
confidence that they would potentially use Plan B properly. And her judgment was that there
was not enough evidence that this potentially could be used
improperly in a way that had adverse health effects
on those young people. The Press:
Do you fully
support the decision? The President:
I do. The Press:
Mr. President, is a recess
appointment for Richard Cordray on the table, number one. And number two, the
Italian Prime Minister, the new Prime Minister indicated
today he may be coming to the White House next month. Do you think he and other
European leaders are stepping up in the way you’ve urged
them to, to sort of clear up the debt crisis? The President:
I will not take any
options off the table when it comes to getting Richard
Cordray in as director of the Consumer Finance
Protection Board. And I want to repeat what I said
earlier: This is a law that was passed by Congress that I signed
into law that is designed solely to protect American consumers. I don’t think there’s any
consumer out there — I don’t think there’s any American out
there — who thinks that the reason we got into the big
financial mess that we did was because of too much regulation
of Wall Street or the financial services industry. I take it back. I’m sure there are some folks in
the financial service industry who make that argument; although
I’m not sure that they make it with a straight face. So let’s just take a very
specific example: All the families out there who
have now lost their home, after having paid their
mortgage over and over again, because they were told that
they could afford this home; they didn’t understand all the
documentation that was involved — this was peddled
deliberately to them, even though a mortgage broker
might have known that there was no way that they could keep up
with these payments — and now they’re out on the street
because nobody was making sure that there’s fair play and
fair dealing in the mortgage industry on it. Now, why wouldn’t we want to
have somebody just to make sure that people are
being treated fairly? Especially when not only
is that family affected, but our whole
economy is affected. This is part of what I
was talking about a couple of days ago. We have a Congress right now,
Republicans in Congress right now, who seem to have
entirely forgotten how we got into this mess. And part of the reason was
because we did not empower our regulators to make sure that
they were ensuring fair play. That’s what the Consumer
Finance Protection Board is designed to do. We had Holly Petraeus,
wife of General Petraeus, who’s been working to make
sure that our Armed Services personnel aren’t
taken advantage of. They get transferred to a base,
and next thing they know they’re taking out loans that they
think are a good deal, but it turns out that they’re
paying 100-150-200 percent interest rates. Why wouldn’t we want somebody
in place to make sure that doesn’t happen? It doesn’t make any sense. So the bottom line is —
you asked about the recess appointment — we’re going
to look at all our options. My hope and expectation is, is
that the Republicans who blocked this nomination come
to their senses. And I know that some of them
have made an argument, well, we just want to sort of make
some modifications in the law. Well, they’re free to introduce
a bill and get that passed. But part of what’s happened over
on Capitol Hill — not just on this issue, but on every
issue — is they will hold up nominations, well-qualified
judges aren’t getting a vote — I’ve got assistant secretaries
to the Treasury who get held up for no reason, just because
they’re trying to see if they can use that to reverse
some sort of law that’s already been passed. And that’s part of what gets the
American people so frustrated — because they don’t feel like
this thing is on the level. The Press:
The European crisis, do
you have any sense — The President:
Oh, on the European
debt crisis — I am obviously very concerned about
what’s happening in Europe. I’ve expressed those concerns
repeatedly to President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel, all
the key leaders involved. I think they now recognize the
urgency of doing something serious and bold. The question is whether they can
muster the political will to get it done. Look, Europe is wealthy enough
that there’s no reason why they can’t solve this problem. It’s not as if we’re talking
about some impoverished country that doesn’t have any resources,
and is being buffeted by the world markets, and they need to
come hat in hand and get help. This is Europe, with some of the
wealthiest countries on Earth; collectively one of the
largest markets on Earth, if not the largest. And so if they muster
the political will, they have the capacity
to settle markets down, make sure that they
are acting responsibly, and that governments like Italy
are able to finance their debt. And I think that Chancellor
Merkel has made some progress with other European leaders in
trying to move towards a fiscal compact where everybody is
playing by the same rules and nobody is acting irresponsibly. I think that’s all for the good,
but there’s a short-term crisis that has to be resolved to
make sure that markets have confidence that Europe
stands behind the euro. And we’re going to do everything
we can to push them in a good direction on this, because
it has a huge impact on what happens here in
the United States. They are our largest
trading partner, and we’re seeing some positive
signs in our economy, but if we see Europe tank,
that obviously could have a big impact on our ability to
generate the jobs that we need here in the United States. I’m going to answer
one last question. Kristen — Kristen Welker. The Press:
Mr. President, thank you. You just called on Congress not
to leave until they resolve this issue over the payroll
tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits. Can you say definitively that
you will postpone your own vacation until these two
matters are resolved? And also, on Iran, we’ve heard
some sharper language from members of your administration
about Iran recently. Are you intentionally trying to
ramp up the pressure on Iran? And given that you stated that
no options are off the table, should we take that to mean
that you are considering some other options? The President:
No options off the table means
I’m considering all options. The Press:
Can you tell us specifically
what those options might be? The President:
No. But what I can say
with respect to Iran, I think it’s very
important to remember, particularly given some of the
political noise out there, that this administration has
systematically imposed the toughest sanctions on
Iraq — on Iran ever. When we came into office,
the world was divided; Iran was unified and moving
aggressively on its own agenda. Today, Iran is isolated, and the
world is unified in applying the toughest sanctions that
Iran has ever experienced. And it’s having an
impact inside of Iran. And that’s as a consequence of
the extraordinary work that’s been done by our
national security team. Now, Iran understands that they
have a choice: They can break that isolation by acting
responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons,
which would still allow them to pursue peaceful nuclear power,
like every other country that’s a member of the
Non-Proliferation Treaty, or they can continue to operate
in a fashion that isolates them from the entire world. And if they are pursuing
nuclear weapons, then I have said very clearly,
that is contrary to the national security interests
of the United States; it’s contrary to the national
security interests of our allies, including Israel; and we
are going to work with the world community to prevent that. With respect to my vacation,
I would not ask anybody to do something I’m not
willing to do myself. So I know some of you might have
been looking forward to a little sun and sand — (laughter)
— but the bottom line is, is that we are going to stay
here as long as it takes to make sure that the American
people’s taxes don’t go up on January 1st, and to make sure
that folks who desperately need unemployment insurance
get that help. And there’s absolutely no excuse
for us not getting it done. Keep in mind, on
the payroll tax cut, this is something that Democrats
and Republicans agreed to last year with little fanfare, and
it was good for the economy. And independent economists
estimate that for us to not extend it right now — to
not extend payroll tax cut, not extend unemployment
insurance — would have a significant, adverse
impact on our economy, right at a time when
we’re supposed to be growing the economy. So when I hear the Speaker or
the Senate Republican leader wanting to dicker, wanting
to see what can they extract from us in order to get this
done, my response to them is, just do the right thing:
Focus on the American people, focus on the economy right now. I know the suggestion right
now is, is that somehow, well, this Keystone issue
will create jobs. That’s being determined by the
State Department right now, and there is a process. But here’s what I know: However
many jobs might be generated by a Keystone pipeline, they’re
going to be a lot fewer than the jobs that are created by
extending the payroll tax cut and extending
unemployment insurance. Get it done. And if not, maybe we’ll
have a white Christmas here in Washington. And I look forward to spending
a lot of time with you guys — (laughter) — between now and the New Year. All right. Thank you, guys.

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