Politics

Showdown over who will lead consumer protection agency

Director Richard Cordray of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau testifies about the unauthorized opening of accounts by Wells Fargo during a Senate hearing on September 20, 2016.
Director Richard Cordray of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau testifies about the unauthorized opening of accounts by Wells Fargo during a Senate hearing on September 20, 2016.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Who's the boss? That's the awkward question after the departing head of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau appointed a deputy to temporarily fill his spot — hours before the White House named its own interim leader.

On Friday, outgoing director Richard Cordray named Leandra English, the agency's chief of staff, as deputy director to take over the bureau.

Hours later, President Trump announced that Mick Mulvaney would become acting director of the bureau.

So come Monday, who will be leading what Congressional Republicans had called a "rogue agency"?

Both Cordray — an Obama appointee long criticized by Congressional Republicans as overzealous — and the White House say they have the right to designate an interim leader until a permanent one is approved by Congress.

Senior Trump administration officials said Saturday that they expect no trouble when Trump's pick shows up for work, despite the clash on who should take over.

Cordray, who says he'll step down by the end of November, officially tendered his resignation on Friday.

The White House said in a statement that Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, will serve as acting director until a permanent director is nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management, was named acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management, was named acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Astrid Riecken/Getty Images

That sets up the battle with the White House. Corday's move was seen a clear attempt to stop Trump from shaping the agency in the months ahead. Getting a permanent replacement approved by the Senate could take months.

The president's pick for temporary appointee, Mick Mulvaney, has been an outspoken critic of the agency. He is expected to pull back on many of Cordray's actions.

Administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the White House's thinking, called Trump's appointment of an acting director a "routine move" and cited the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, a different one than Cordray cited.

They said the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel has already approved Trump's appointment of Mulvaney and will issue a written legal opinion soon.

The clashing appointments raise the question of what happens when the two new heads show up and try to sit at the same desk and give orders?

One of the administrative officials, pressed about the awkward situation on Saturday, said she didn't anticipate Mulvaney would have any trouble when he started working Monday. Referring to Cordray's pick, the official added that English was expected to also show up, too — but as deputy director.

The choice for a temporary appointment may seem a small matter, but the agency has been tangled in in partisan politics since its creation, and the attitudes of the two toward it differ sharply.

English is a trusted lieutenant of Cordray's who has helped investigate and punish financial companies in ways that many Republicans, Mulvaney in particular, think go too far. In his announcement Friday, Cordray praised English by highlighting her "in-depth" knowledge of the agency's operations and its staff. Before joining the CFPB, English served at the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management.

Mulvaney was a South Carolina representative to the House before becoming head of the budget office. A founder of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, he was elected in 2010 as part of a tea party wave that brought many critics of the U.S. budget deficit to office. He has taken a hard line on federal spending matters, routinely voting against increasing the government's borrowing cap and pressing for major cuts to benefit programs as the path to balancing the budget.

He also has been unsparing in his criticism of the CFPB, and Democrats has seized upon his words in criticizing his appointment by Trump to the agency.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services committee, issued a statement Saturday calling Mulvaney "unacceptable" to lead the CFPB because of his "noxious" views toward its mission to protect consumers.

"As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Mr. Mulvaney called the Consumer Bureau a 'joke,'" Waters wrote. "He was also the original co-sponsor of a bill to completely eliminate the Consumer Bureau, and supported other legislation to harmfully roll back Wall Street reform."