Commentary

Mulvaney Tells House Panel CFPB Should Be Commission; Warren Next

Urging his former colleagues to make the Consumer Financial Control Board into a bipartisan commission like the SEC or FCC, Mick Mulvaney asserted in testimony yesterday that “I have not burned the house down” during his acting stewardship over the past five months. Not that he hasn't lit some matches after sprinkling accelerant on the carpeting.

Mulvaney, who has served as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) since February, 2017, and was controversially appointed to also head up the CFPB on an interim basis last November, represented the 5th district of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017.

Mulvaney “said moving to a bipartisan commission from a single director would prevent ‘wild swings' in rules and policies that accompany changes in administrations,” Yuka Hayashi reports for the Wall Street Journal.

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“‘We need to have a more down-the-middle approach,’ Mr. Mulvaney said while giving a semiannual report on the CFPB before the House Financial Services Committee. He was a Republican member of the panel before joining the Trump administration. As a House member, Mr. Mulvaney voted for multiple bills calling to turn the CFPB into a commission,” Hayashi continues, pointing out that he was even co-sponsor of a bill to do so.

As conciliatory as that may sound, Mulvaney was in a passive-aggressive, combative mode. “I believe it would be my statutory right to just sit here and twiddle my thumbs while you all ask questions,” Mulvaney told the panel at the outset.

“The 2010 Dodd-Frank law that created the bureau in the wake of the financial crisis only requires the bureau director to appear before Congress, but doesn't specifically mandate answering questions, said Mulvaney, a Republican and outspoken critic of the agency,” explains Jim Puzzanghera for the Los Angeles Times.

“Still, he went on to answer questions, many of them confrontational ones by Democrats who told him they believed he had been unlawfully appointed to the job last fall by President Trump. But Mulvaney's assertion that he didn't have to — which Democrats contested — was part of a strategy since taking the job of trying to highlight his view that the independent bureau is a rogue agency that should be reined in by Congress,” Puzzanghera writes.

“Mulvaney, who recently called on Congress to cripple the agency and who scrapped a planned action against a payday lender accused of abusive practices shortly after taking the helm, insisted on Wednesday that ‘we are still going after the bad actors.’ He said he had authorized the agency’s lawyers to proceed with ‘25 cases’ initiated by his predecessor, Richard Cordray, a Democrat currently running for governor of Ohio,” Glenn Thrush writes for the New York Times.

Mulvaney also told the panel “that the bureau had reclaimed about $92.6 million from lenders who engaged in abusive or fraudulent practices, though he acknowledged the remittances came from actions begun by Mr. Cordray, who recovered about $12 billion from financial institutions during his tenure,” Thrush continues.

“Mick Mulvaney's attacks on consumer financial protection are illegal as well as wrong. Donald Trump is ignoring the Dodd-Frank law Congress wrote to prevent this,” reads the subhed over an opinion piece by Brianne Gorod, chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, in USA Today this morning.

“In the four months since [he] unlawfully assumed leadership of the CFPB, he has worked to dismantle its accomplishments brick by brick and rule by rule. With Mulvaney helming the bureau, its efficiency and successful track record working on behalf of consumers are under existential threat, and American families are shouldering the burden,” Gorod asserts.

Cordray’s choice to succeed him, deputy director Leandra English, is challenging Mulvaney’s appointment in a pending lawsuit filed in federal district court.

The administration has not yet nominated a permanent head of the bureau; it believes Mulvaney can serve for as long as 210 days, bringing his stewardship to about June 22, according to Alan S. Kaplinsky writing for Ballard Spahr’s “Consumer Finance Monitor” blog.

“If that nomination is rejected, withdrawn, or returned by the Senate, Mr. Mulvaney can continue to serve for another 210 days and assuming the President makes a second nomination within that 210-day period, Mr. Mulvaney can continue to serve until the second nominee is confirmed or for no more than 210 days after the second nomination is rejected, withdrawn, or returned,” Kaplinsky continues.

Mulvaney is doing such a good job doing nothing except — in the spirit of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt — undoing the effectiveness of agency he’s heading, there’s little incentive for the administration to appoint anybody who would pass muster.

In the meantime, the show must go on. 

“In a moment four months in the making, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday will get her first face-to-face crack at the man accused of dismantling her brainchild in what’s likely to be an intensely personal showdown,” writes Katy O’Donnell for Politico. “Warren and Mulvaney have already gone after each other with a flurry of increasingly nasty letters, op-eds and speeches,” she observes, citing several examples. 

We’re betting that when Mulvaney takes his seat before the Senate Banking Committee today, he won’t be twiddling his thumbs.

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