Mick Mulvaney laid out a tentative plan Monday for remaking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, including adding more political appointees and launching a review of the watchdog’s more than 100 active investigations and lawsuits.
Mulvaney said he plans to bring a more traditional structure to the bureau, borrowing ideas from the Office of Management and Budget, which he also leads. “We’re running the place like any other new management team would,” he said.
Trump appointed Mulvaney to the temporary post last week after the agency’s former director, Richard Cordray, announced he was stepping down. But by then, Cordray had already named his former chief of staff, Leandra English, as acting director, setting up a legal battle that both sides acknowledge could linger for weeks or months. A federal judge is scheduled to hold another hearing on the matter Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Mulvaney and English have yet to meet in person.
“Yes, Ms. English is in the building from time to time. I have had no interaction with her” except through email, Mulvaney said during a meeting with reporters. English sometimes works out of another CFPB building, and they have not run into each other, he said.
Mulvaney said he has sent English about half a dozen emails, including several asking her to stop calling herself the acting director when communicating with agency staff. English has sent several such emails, including one late last week. Mulvaney said he also asked English to perform some duties customary for the deputy director.
“I have not heard back from her,” he said.
Asked whether he had considered firing her, Mulvaney said, “No, absolutely not.”
But, yes, Mulvaney said, the legal scuffle has made for a somewhat awkward workplace. “It’s always a challenge when you’re in a workplace with someone who’s suing you, and I’m a named defendant,” he said, referring to English’s lawsuit. “We typically don’t chat.”
The continuing legal battle has not stopped Mulvaney from moving forward with some plans for rethinking the structure of the agency. He is reviewing the agency’s ongoing investigations and lawsuits, he said, and has put a hold on the issuance of new rules.” I am looking at each of those on an individual basis,” he said.
In the meantime, he has partially lifted a freeze on hiring. Job offers or internal promotions that have already been extended can continue, he said, although additional hiring is still frozen. “We have been able to refine bits and pieces,” Mulvaney said.
He is also starting to put in place new staff and said he intends to marry senior CFPB staff with political appointees. “There are 1,600 people who work here, which tells you maybe they didn’t think they needed to have any political people here because a lot of the people here were political anyway,” he said.
In the meantime, Brian Johnson, a former top staffer for the House Financial Services Committee, is already at the bureau assisting with day-to-day operations. Mulvaney’s chief of staff, Emma Doyle, is splitting time between OMB and the CFPB.
Mulvaney also signaled support for an attempt by House Republicans to block a CFPB rule targeting the billions of dollars in fees collected by payday lenders offering high-cost, short-term loans. “I happen to think that’s a good idea. I hope they pass it,” he said. “It is not unusual for a new administration to change positions on policies.”
Consumer advocates and Democrats argue that Mulvaney is illegally attempting to hold a job that rightly belongs to English. Some question Mulvaney’s ability to wear two hats — director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting head of the CFPB. At the OMB, he is a political appointee, but at the CFPB, he’s a powerful financial regulator who can make nearly unilateral decisions affecting mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts and many other financial products, they say.
Consumer advocates have also been concerned about the kind of changes Mulvaney could implement at the agency before the Senate confirms a permanent replacement, noting that he once called the CFPB a “joke” and co-sponsored legislation to do away with the agency.