Chopra, 39, would serve a five-year term at the helm of the federal consumer watchdog. He has a long history with the CFPB, which was created in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008. He worked closely with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on establishing the bureau, then joined it in 2011 to investigate industry abuses in the student lending market.
He later became assistant director and then student loan ombudsman, where he developed a reputation for targeting private student loan servicers for what he called their mistreatment of borrowers, helping lay the foundation for President Barack Obama’s Student Aid Bill of Rights.
Progressives see him as an experienced and headstrong rulemaker who is not afraid to take a hard line against big banks. Conservatives, meanwhile, say they fear he will steer the bureau toward becoming an unaccountable regulatory body with an anti-business agenda.
“It’s very likely that Chopra would return the CFPB to the rogue, unaccountable, anti-business agency it was during the Obama administration," Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said Thursday.
In March, senators on the Senate Banking Committee voted, with a 12-to-12 tie, which failed to advance Chopra’s nomination, along party lines. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer “discharged” the nomination from committee, clearing the way for a vote of the full Senate.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to protect consumers from the vagaries and predations of the financial system that led to the financial crisis and the Great Recession, which took the economy years to fully recover.
In its first five years in operation, the agency recovered an estimated $11.7 billion in relief for some 27 million consumers, according to agency informational materials. It also put in place new rules designed to protect consumers from predatory terms attached to student loans, mortgages and consumer credit.
The agency slowed down notably during President Donald Trump’s administration, as regulations were scaled back across numerous federal agencies.
Under Kathy Kraninger, a Trump appointee who resigned in January at President Biden’s request, the agency pursued few actions against major lenders like American Express, JPMorgan Chase or Wells Fargo. Consumer recoveries and enforcement actions dropped precipitously.
“They dismantled or didn’t move on a number of issues that [Obama-era CFPB director] Cordray instituted. One big task will be to try to revive some of these areas that languished over the past five years," said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who follows the CFPB.
Democrats and consumer advocates have championed Chopra’s nomination, saying they hope he will reinvigorate an agency that languished under Trump.
“The last administration’s appointees acted like they worked for the giant banks that they were supposed to regulate, so it’s clear that the bureau needs to return to its core mission of protecting consumers,” Warren said in a February nomination hearing.
In early confirmation hearings, Chopra vowed to crack down on the ways that banks are using online behavioral advertising to manipulate consumers, as well as take a hard look at data-collection practices at banks. He also said he would beef up a CFPB division focusing on fair lending and equal opportunity issues.
Debate on the Senate floor Thursday over Chopra’s confirmation reflected the political and ideological tensions that have come to define the bureau and its mission.
Toomey said Chopra had a “hostile relationship with lenders” in his earlier work with CFPB and on the Federal Trade Commission. He also said Chopra has “already shown a complete disregard already for congressional oversight” in reference to a letter from his office that he said Chopra failed to answer during the confirmation process.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) defended Chopra’s record, suggesting Republicans who oppose his confirmation are co-opted by corporate lobbyists, and he said that a stronger consumer bureau is needed to crack down on banks, payday lenders, and “scammers who preyed on people’s student loan debt.”
“Rohit Chopra will fight for all those who feel they’ve been left on their own,” Brown said. He phrased his support for Chopra in terms of the historic economic hardship that has struck lower-income Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
House Financial Services Committee chair Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) praised Chopra for “working tirelessly to protect student borrowers" and going after predatory businesses.
“At a time when consumers need a strong watchdog, Mr. Chopra will be an advocate for working families," Waters said in a statement.
The financial services industry reacted to Chopra’s confirmation with calls for consistency and continuity. Consumer Bankers Association chief executive Richard Hunt called on Chopra to “put an end to the political pendulum swing" by adopting long-term regulatory strategies.
“Under Director Chopra’s leadership, the Bureau should strive for financial regulations that last longer than a power shift in Washington,” Hunt said, noting that the agency’s brief history has already shown how frequent leadership changes can cause uncertainty.
American Bankers Association President Rob Nichols said the industry “looks forward to working with him to make sure consumers continue to have access to the financial products and services they want and need with the protections they deserve.”