Mulvaney Defends Role Running Agency He Wants to Cripple

Posted April 11, 2018 6:16 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Mick Mulvaney, interim director of the consumer protection agency created during the Obama administration, said on Wednesday he is committed to “enforcing the law” as Democrats questioned his fitness, commitment and legal right to run a bureau he once vowed to kill.

Late last year, President Donald Trump gave Mulvaney, the White House budget director, the additional job of running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency Trump and congressional Republicans would like to neutralize, if not eliminate.

Mulvaney, who recently called on Congress to cripple the agency and who scrapped a planned action against a payday lender accused of abusive practices shortly after taking the helm, insisted Wednesday that “we are still going after the bad actors.” He said he had authorized the agency’s lawyers to proceed with “25 cases” initiated by his predecessor Richard Cordray, a Democrat currently running for governor of Ohio.

“I have not burned the place down,” said Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina who vigorously opposed the creation of the bureau, which he once referred to as a “sick, sad joke.”

Mulvaney told members of the House Financial Services Committee that the bureau had reclaimed about $92.6 million from lenders who engaged in abusive or fraudulent practices, though he acknowledged the remittances came from actions begun by Cordray, who recovered about $12 billion from financial institutions during his tenure.

He also said he has not initiated any new enforcement actions or lawsuits since taking the job in November. He said he is “operating in a more restrained way” that included factoring in the impact of the agency’s investigations on the financial health of businesses, a view he has also encouraged the bureau’s employees to adopt.

Democrats were not impressed. “Some have said you are the fox in the henhouse,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. “Before you took over we had about an investigation a week. All of a sudden the investigations have stopped. We got a goose egg.”

Other Democrats, including the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., questioned Mulvaney’s “legitimacy,” arguing that Cordray’s aide, Leandra English, was legally entitled to be the bureau’s acting director under federal law. Mulvaney is serving pending the outcome of a legal case brought by English.

“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,” Waters said. “It is necessary for us to engage with him in an oversight capacity here today while the courts decide who should actually be in charge.”

Mulvaney, sitting on the edge of his hardback chair as he answered questions before his former House colleagues, attempted to shift questions about his performance to his top political priority: getting Congress to remove the agency’s funding authority from the Federal Reserve and shift it to lawmakers. The Dodd-Frank law, which created the bureau, specifically placed the agency under the Fed’s purse-strings to ensure its independence and limit the influence of payday lenders and bank lobbyists.

The plan has virtually no chance of passing the Senate, according to legislative aides and administration’s official.

Mulvaney, who said he had “two full-time jobs,” said he visits the consumer bureau office almost every day of the week, albeit for a short time on some days. He has agreed to forgo the director’s salary.

“It is impossible to do two full-time jobs, that’s a problem,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio.

Mulvaney said he has tried to keep both responsibilities from overlapping, maintaining two separate email accounts and employing two executive assistants. But he came under fire for his approval of a modest office renovation intended to give him and his staff more privacy.

In recent weeks, workers have installed frosted panes onto the glass walls on about a dozen offices, including Mulvaney’s, at the bureau’s rented downtown Washington headquarters. The renovation cost about $3,500 and was authorized — but not undertaken — by Cordray, Mulvaney said at the hearing.

“You are the champion of transparency, you have obscured yourself. I find that ironic, sir,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

Mulvaney responded by asking Ellison if the door to his office was transparent.