If you have to tell someone you just told a joke after they failed to laugh, usually that tells you something. So it’s worth wondering what went wrong when the president tried to crack a funny while introducing his choice to head the new consumer protection bureau Monday afternoon.
During his introduction of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, the president mentioned that Cordray is a former five-time Jeopardy champion. Consequently, he said, “all [Cordray’s] answers at his confirmation hearings will be in the form of a question.”
The audience was silent.
“That’s a joke,” Obama said smiling, allowing the crowd to break out in a chorus of chuckles:
Presidential jokes are welcomed, and the president tells them often. But this one, it seems, fell flat, either because it wasn’t funny, it had poor delivery, or no one wanted to be the first to break out in laughter during a serious moment. Whatever the reason, it was awkward.
As for the actual nomination of Cordray, that isn’t a joke, and in fact, many Republicans have deep concerns about him.
Obama and Cordray were joined in the Rose Garden by Elizabeth Warren, a special assistant to the president who had been charged with getting the agency running. Warren is widely considered the architect of the bureau, and consumer groups wanted her to be named its leader. But she was strongly opposed by Republicans and would have faced a difficult path to confirmation.
Republicans have already threatened to block Cordray’s Senate confirmation as well.
Cordray, 52, is considered a Warren ally and has been working with her as director of enforcement for the agency.
Republicans fought fiercely against the creation of the bureau last year and have been trying to place restrictions on its work. In May, all Senate Republicans joined in a letter to Obama threatening to withhold their support for any nominee to the position if the White House didn’t seek significant changes to the agency.
The financial industry has also expressed concerns about the agency, worrying that it would restrict new products just when companies are seeking to replace profits squeezed by the new financial rules.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it had deep concerns over how Cordray would use the agency’s “broad powers.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was a central feature of a law Congress passed last year that overhauled the rules that govern the financial sector. The agency will serve as a government watchdog over mortgages, credit cards and other forms of lending when it officially begins its work on July 21.
You can read our initial report on Cordray here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(via Greg Hengler)