The financial services sector is heralding President Trump’s announcement last week that he would nominate Kathy Kraninger to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Community Financial Services Association of America, the Credit Union National Association, the American Bankers Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association, among others, almost immediately stepped forward to issue support. “A steady hand,” proclaimed Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, the retail banking industry’s lobbying shop.
There’s just one problem: A steady hand is the last thing we should now want at the CFPB, which has gone from consumer watchdog under the Obama administration to financial industry lapdog under Trump. The nomination of Kraninger, who has almost no experience in financial regulation, is another sign of the rot that has taken hold of the CFPB since Trump installed White House budget head Mick Mulvaney as the bureau’s temporary chief. And it signals that this rot will certainly continue to fester and increase.
The financial services firms are cheering Kraninger, not because they believe she will serve consumers, but because they expect her to follow in Mulvaney’s footsteps. And what footsteps they are! Mulvaney, who as a member of Congress described the CFPB as a “sick, sad” joke, has spent much of his time since Trump appointed him acting director doing everything he can to make his then-inaccurate statement true. Mulvaney has shut down or scaled back any number of investigations and lawsuits into financial services malfeasance, including discriminatory loans and usurious payday lending. He’s taking steps to end public access to the CFPB’s public database of financial services misbehavior and downsized the office devoted to handling student loan issues.
When an advisory board of consumer advocates began to complain about the lack of meetings, Mulvaney axed all 25 members. Adding insult to public policy injury: A Mulvaney spokesman accused the board members of acting “more concerned about protecting their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, D.C., and being wined and dined by the Bureau” — this from the Trump administration, where traveling first class on the government dime is all but a job requirement!
Mulvaney’s appointment should end this Friday, under federal regulations governing temporary appointments. But the nomination of Kraninger allows him to remain in place until either the end of the year or the Senate votes on her nomination, whichever event comes first. If the Senate declines to confirm Kraninger, Mulvaney can then continue to moonlight at the CFPB for another 210 days. Some suspect this is the real plan: After all, Kraninger’s previous experience includes time at the Department of Homeland Security, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Office of Management and Budget — and no experience in protecting consumers.
At least initially, many thought even Republicans in Congress wouldn’t support such an obviously out-there nomination. Kraninger’s previous positions did not give her any more experience in matters of consumer credit than any other American handling a monthly credit card statement or car purchase or lease. Compounding the doubts: It’s possible Kraninger’s time at DHS gave her experience in weighing on the policy of removing migrant minor children from their parents. In fact, Tuesday afternoon Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) – who originated the idea for the CFPB more than a decade ago – placed a hold on Kraninger’s nomination until the nominee turns over documents and answers questions about her role in the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
But the worst-case scenario for the Trump administration is that Mulvaney remains in charge. It’s the ultimate “heads the banks win, tails the consumers lose” nomination.
Make no mistake: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was not established because Warren woke up one morning and decided to sock it to the financial sector. It was established because of mountains of evidence that the financial sector was frequently socking it to customers. And now, thanks to the Trump administration, it will almost certainly continue to do so indefinitely.