Mulvaney insists consumer watchdog is still doing its job

Watchdog-Agency-No-Consumer-Relief

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers Wednesday that the agency's new priority is "to recognize free markets and consumer choice" and take "a humble approach to enforcing the law", according to prepared remarks released in advance.

Several Democratic lawmakers also questioned whether Mulvaney could properly serve as acting director of the CFPB while simultaneously heading the Office of Management and Budget - two full-time jobs, they said, that needed someone's full attention.

Much of Mulvaney's first appearance this week in two days of hearing focused on the bureau's lack of new enforcement actions in his almost five months on the job. He also has announced he would revise or revisit numerous rules or regulations that his predecessor, Obama-appointee Richard Cordray, put into place under his tenure.

Still, he pleaded with lawmakers to consider legislation that would create a commission at the agency, rather than a single director, and have the CFPB subject to congressional appropriations - something Republicans have long pursued to no avail.

Democrats, including ranking member Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of NY, repeatedly insisted that their presence at the hearing didn't imply that they think his appointment is legitimate; a legal battle involving deputy CFPB director Leandra English, who claims to be the rightful successor to former director Richard Cordray, remains ongoing. This penalty would also be the first issued by Mulvaney since his appointment by the Trump administration. Mulvaney said the bureau continues to do its job, with numerous investigations of financial companies in the works.

While expanding the bill could force Senate Democrats to walk away from a deal, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said he still supported CFPB reforms.

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Meanwhile, congressional Democrats refused to acknowledge that Mulvaney is the acting director of the bureau, referring to an ongoing court case in which the deputy director of the bureau, Leandra English, is suing, claiming that she is the true acting director. "I want to be very clear that Democrats' participation in this hearing is not in any way an acknowledgment of Mr. Mulvaney's legitimacy at the consumer bureau". The CFPB is still litigating 25 cases that were already filed, and there are typically 100 active investigations, Mulvaney said.

The hearing marked a role reversal for Republicans, who spent years criticizing the CFPB as too aggressive.

Democrats and consumer advocates said the bureau's structure was created to keep it free of political influence so consumer protection efforts wouldn't be weakened by financial industry lobbying or starved of funding by congressional opponents. This time, conservative lawmakers heaped praise on Mulvaney, who as a Republican congressman from SC served on the committee and helped sponsor legislation to get rid of the CFPB.

"Why not have the opportunity to at least bring me in and ask me how I'm spending money?" he said.

A review of a CFPB database obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information request shows that the bureau issued an average of two to four enforcement actions a month under former Director Richard Cordray, President Obama's appointee. He outlined steps he said would make the bureau more accountable to Congress and the president.

Mulvaney will appear in front of Congress on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss that report, and enforcement is expected to come up in questioning. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the CFPB's architect and the most vocal critic of the acting director.

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