Both are liberal darlings expected to take a tough line against the financial services interests they would oversee.
Their aggressive approaches probably will draw some pushback from Republicans. But both have won Senate confirmation by wide margins for other regulatory posts — Gensler in 2009 to lead the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Chopra in 2018 for a seat on the Federal Trade Commission.
Gensler, who started his career at Goldman Sachs, is expected to face questions about the fallout from the GameStop trading frenzy and what kind of regulatory response he may seek to muster, beyond the probe of the incident the agency has already launched. At a House hearing into the matter last month, lawmakers raised concerns about the decision by investing app Robinhood to halt trading in surging stocks; its sale of user trades to market-making firms such as Citadel Securities; the two-day settlement time for trades; and hedge funds’ practice of short-selling. Today’s hearing provides senators their first opportunity to weigh in on the matter.
Gensler will tell the committee he will work to ensure “transparency and accountability in our markets, so people can invest with confidence, and be protected from fraud and manipulation” and promote “efficiency and competition, so our markets operate with lower costs to companies and higher returns to investors,” according to his prepared testimony. And above all, he plans to say he will focus on making sure "our markets serve the needs of working families.”
Gensler wasn’t always a liberal favorite. He drew suspicion from liberal senators when President Barack Obama nominated him to lead the CFTC in the teeth of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. They pointed to his background in the industry and his work as a Clinton Treasury official in the late 1990s opposing stricter regulation of derivatives, the financial instruments that helped magnify the scale of Wall Street’s meltdown.
Once installed, though, he ushered in tougher new restrictions on derivatives than the Obama Treasury Department proposed, part of a flurry of rulemaking that earned him a reputation as a fearsomely potent regulator.
Chopra shares Gensler’s activist bent. Like Gensler, he cut his teeth in the private sector, working as a consultant for the global management firm McKinsey & Co. after graduating from the Wharton School. He brought the expertise he developed there in student debt and other consumer markets to the CFPB, where he served as student loan ombudsman. At the then-fledgling agency, he called out private student lenders for their treatment of borrowers, whom he worked to empower with loan servicers. And he has been a similarly outspoken industry critic at the FTC, pushing for tougher enforcement against tech companies.
At the helm of the CFPB, which the Trump administration worked to hobble, Chopra is set to beef up protections for distressed student borrowers, renters, those with mortgages and others financially strained by the pandemic; ramp up enforcement against industry players engaging in abusive practices; and push new restrictions on payday lending, debt collection, and overdraft fees, people close to the agency say.
“While there are some hopeful signs that the tide is turning, we must not forget that the financial lives of millions of Americans are in ruin,” Chopra will tell the banking committee, according to his prepared testimony. He will note “millions face the prospect of losing their home, with communities of color particularly at risk. Many have seen their jobs disappear and will not be able to easily resume their rent and mortgage payments.”
Both Gensler and Chopra should be confirmed in the coming weeks “barring a major meltdown during this hearing,” Isaac Boltansky, policy analyst for Compass Point Research, wrote in a note to clients.
The banking panel will not vote to advance their nominations to the full Senate today. If confirmed, the pair would be among the first financial regulators to assume posts in the Biden administration, which has yet to name picks to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission and the CFTC.
Biden reportedly intended to name Michael Barr, a top official in the Obama Treasury Department, to lead the OCC. But the notion drew surprisingly stiff resistance from liberals wary of his record shaping the Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul law and his private sector work for fintech interests, and people close to the process now view his prospects as dimming.