Mick Mulvaney defended his leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before a House committee Thursday, dismissing criticism from Democratic lawmakers that he was weakening the watchdog agency.
It was Mulvaney’s first appearance before lawmakers as acting director of the CFPB, but Democrats refused to even agree on his proper title. “He was illegally appointed by the president,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, ranking Democrat of the committee. “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.” (That issue is still being fought in court.)
Since taking control of the agency, Mulvaney has drawn Democrats’ ire by launching a top-to-bottom review of the CFPB, from the way it conducts investigations to how it collects data. Several lawmakers noted that the CFPB had not lodged a single enforcement action against a company during the past five months of Mulvaney’s leadership, compared with three or four cases a month under its previous leader, Richard Cordray.
“We have essentially taken the cop off the beat,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.C.).
Mulvaney acknowledged that he had not filed any new lawsuits, but noted that 25 cases were still being litigated and that there are about 100 active investigations going on at all times. “We’re still going after bad actors,” he said.
The hearing marked a role reversal for Republicans, who spent years criticizing the leadership of the CFPB, calling the agency too aggressive. This time, conservative lawmakers heaped praise on the agency’s leader, who as a Republican congressman served on the committee and helped sponsor legislation to get rid of the consumer agency.
“We welcome home Mick Mulvaney, a highly respected former member of this very committee,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), chair of the committee and one of the CFPB’s fiercest critics. The CFPB remains an “unaccountable” agency with too much power, Hensarling said, but there was now one major distinction: “Acting Director Mulvaney acts lawfully. What a welcome change.”
Mulvaney landed at the top of the CFPB after Cordray, its first director, stepped down in late November. President Trump’s choice to fill the spot, at least temporarily, with his White House budget director, immediately drew pushback from Democrats and consumer advocates, in part because of Mulvaney’s previous attacks on the CFPB. The agency is a “joke … in a sick, sad way,” he told the Credit Union Times in 2014, when he was a Republican congressman from South Carolina.
Several lawmakers at the hearing asked Mulvaney whether he would disavow his previous statements, which Mulvaney declined to do.
“You were clearly one of the people who was most hostile to the creation and operation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.).
“It is fair to say that I was hostile to the existence of the bureau,” Mulvaney responded.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many on our side of aisle … would see you sort of as the fox in the henhouse,” Lynch said.
Mulvaney quickly responded, “That doesn’t surprise me at all.”
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Mick Mulvaney is now one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the country