Trump is trying a takeover of the one agency that stands up to Wall Street

November 27, 2017, 12:20pm

One of the last remnants of the Obama era in Washington is having an uneasy transition to the Trump era.

Since 2012, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had been led by Democrat Rob Cordray, a former attorney general of Ohio, who spearheaded the agency’s efforts to curb discriminatory, unfair, deceptive and fraudulent activities in consumer lending. Cordray’s resignation on Friday opened up an unusual controversy over who will control the agency as acting director. Here’s what you need to know.

First, what is the CFPB?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a government agency created by the Wall Street overhaul law passed in 2010. The CFPB’s goal is establish rules and enforce federal consumer protection laws against, basically, any entity that sells financial products to consumers, including banks, mortgage brokers, auto lenders, payday lenders, credit card companies and for-profit colleges, among others. The idea is to help stop shady practices by lenders.

Why was it started?

Before the financial crisis, the job of protecting consumers against unfair financial practices was spread over a number of different, sometimes obscure, agencies. Democrats argued that this contributed to a failure to respond to widespread evidence of abusive behavior by entities like banks and mortgage brokers that helped cause the housing bust and the economic collapse. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took on those consumer protection roles.

Who runs it?

Good question! President Obama nominated Cordray to run the agency in 2011, but the nomination stalled in the face of heavy opposition from Congressional Republicans and the financial industry. Finally Obama named him as director in a controversial recess appointment in January 2012.

Cordray resigned on Friday and named his former chief of staff Leandra English to temporarily replace him. President Trump sought to install Mick Mulvaney, the head of his Office of Management and Budget, as acting director in an attempt to block Cordray’s wishes. English has filed suit in federal court seeking, in turn, to block Mulvaney’s appointment, saying a permanent director must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, a process that could take months. Until that court makes its decision, it’s unclear exactly who is running the agency.

What has the CFPB done that I might care about?

The agency says it has returned roughly $12 billion to consumers in the form of reduced principal payments and canceled debts. Some of its notable actions include fining giant bank Wells Fargo $100 million last year in a settlement related to the bank opening unauthorized credit card and bank accounts on behalf of customers. In conjunction with the Department of Justice, it brought enforcement actions over discriminatory lending practices at auto lenders, which it said charged minorities more than white borrowers, resulting in more than $100 million in fines. It recently imposed tough new restrictions on the payday lending industry.

In January the CFPB sued Navient, the country’s largest student loan company, alleging the company collected improper payments, gave consumers bad information, and didn’t act on consumer complaints. And the CFPB has been an excellent place to vent, having handled more than 1 million consumer complaints as of January 2017, some of which can be accessed at the agency’s searchable complaints database.