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How Long Can Richard Cordray Lead CFPB Without Being Confirmed?

News broke today that President Obama has decided to defy Senate Republicans by appointing Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some thought this recess appointment would come yesterday, but as Brad Plumer notes in The Washington Post, “recess-appointing Cordray now rather than yesterday means his appointment will last through the end of 2013, rather than through the end of 2012.” What factors determine how long a recess appointee can serve?

A 2011 report from the Congressional Research Service gives some insight. “A recess appointment expires at the sine die adjournment of the Senate’s ‘next session,’” it explains. “In practice, this means that a recess appointment could last for almost two years.” This is the length of time that President Obama’s appointment of Cordray will last. The CRS document continues: “If the President makes a recess appointment between sessions (of the same or successive Congresses), that appointment will expire at the end of the following session. If he makes the appointment during a recess in the middle of a session, that appointment also will expire at the end of the following session. In this case, the duration of the appointment will include the rest of the session in progress plus the full length of the session that follows. At any point in a year, as a result, by making a recess appointment during an intrasession recess, the President may fill a position not just for the rest of the year, but until near the end of the following year.” In this case, that means the recess appointee could outlast, by nearly a year, the president who appointed him.