Dueling Appointments Lead to Clash at US Consumer Protection Bureau

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November 25, 2017

President Trump named Mick Mulvaney the acting leader of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. – Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

November 25, 2017

President Trump named Mick Mulvaney the acting leader of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. – Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump on Friday named his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, moving to take control of the agency hours after its departing leader had taken steps to install his own choice for acting chief.

 

 

By the end of the night, an agency born after the financial meltdown — and one which Republicans have tried to kill from the start — had dueling directors, and there was little sense of who actually would be in charge Monday morning.

The bureaucratic standoff began Friday afternoon when Richard Cordray, the Obama-appointed leader of the bureau, abruptly announced he would leave the job at midnight, a week earlier than anticipated. He followed up with a letter naming his chief of staff as the agency’s deputy director.

The announcement came with a twist. Under the law, he said, that appointment would make the new deputy director the agency’s acting director. The move was seen as an effort to block Mr. Trump from appointing his own acting director.

The White House retaliated, saying Mr. Mulvaney, who once called the consumer protection bureau a “sad, sick joke,” would be running the agency. He would also keep his current job as head of the Office of Management and Budget.

In a letter to the agency’s staff, Mr. Cordray said he was naming Leandra English, the agency’s chief of staff, as deputy director.

Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which established the regulatory agency, the deputy director is to serve as acting director in the absence of a permanent leader, Mr. Cordray said.

The bureau was proposed in 2007 by Elizabeth Warren, then a Harvard law professor, but she was passed over to lead the agency after Obama administration officials became concerned that she would not be able to overcome resistance from Republicans during the confirmation process.

 

Richard Cordray, the agency’s departing leader. – Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

Instead, President Barack Obama chose Mr. Cordray, a former attorney general of Ohio whom Ms. Warren had picked to be the agency’s enforcement director. But for two years, Republicans prevented the confirmation of a director to lead the agency.

In July 2013, the Senate finally agreed to allow the confirmation of Mr. Cordray, cementing a new era of expansive federal oversight of companies that lend money to consumers. As a senator from Massachusetts, Ms. Warren championed the bureau, which has emerged as an aggressive consumer watchdog with broad power to combat financial abuses.

On Friday, consumer groups quickly praised Mr. Cordray, whose move appeared to be a final attempt to keep the bureau in hands that would preserve the legacy he helped created as its first director.

“Fortunately, the statute creating the C.F.P.B. says that the agency’s deputy director serves as acting director until a new director has been nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate,” Lisa Donner, executive director, Americans for Financial Reform, said in a statement. “Mulvaney has said he is opposed to the very existence of the C.F.P.B., and as a member of Congress he voted in favor of Wall Street banks and predatory lenders — his largest donors — again and again.”

The appointment of Mr. Mulvaney, who as a Republican congressman from South Carolina was the co-sponsor of legislation to shut down the consumer bureau, had been widely anticipated. An official told The New York Times this month that Mr. Mulvaney was expected to remain director of the Office of Management and Budget while overseeing the consumer bureau until a permanent director was approved.

The bureau, with its reputation as an active watchdog for the financial rights of consumers, has been a major obstacle to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle regulations.

The Trump administration would have been free to make major changes at the agency as he has done at other financial regulators — many of which are run by former executives — but Mr. Cordray’s surprise move may complicate those plans. And what happens next is not entirely clear.

Instead, the agency’s next director may potentially face the same kind of resistance Mr. Cordray experienced from Republicans after he was named director.

In a statement, Mr. Mulvaney said he will continue in his role as the director of the Office of Management and Budget — and assume the additional role — until a permanent successor is found.

“I believe Americans deserve a C.F.P.B. that seeks to protect them while ensuring free and fair markets for all consumers,” he said in a statement. “Financial services are the engine of American democratic capitalism, and we need to let it work.”

Ms. English is no stranger to the consumer protection bureau. She helped start the agency in 2011, working in several roles before leaving to join the Office of Management and Budget. She returned in January 2015 as deputy chief operating officer, left to work at the Office of Personnel Management and returned again in January 2017 as the bureau’s chief of staff.

Ms. English has a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

One of the names that had been floated for the bureau’s top post was Todd J. Zywicki, a conservative law professor at George Mason University.

But consumer advocates have not been enthusiastic about any of the candidates mentioned thus far. “Most have harshly criticized the idea of the bureau or even called for its repeal,” Ed Mierzwinski, a consumer program director at the advocacy group U.S. PIRG, said in a statement. “Some have questioned the idea of consumer protection itself.”

 


Courtesy/Source: NY Times