Grief officers spend chaotic days competing to lead a federal consumer watchdog


Mick Mulvaney, elected by President Trump as interim director of the Office of Consumer Financial Protection, reiterated his criticism of the bureau on November 27. (Reuters)

The battle over who will lead a major federal consumer watchdog agency escalated on Monday, with leaders in mourning each demanding control before a federal judge during a chaotic day of public appearances and maneuvers.

At the end of the day, it was no less clear who was the actual interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – President Trump's selection of White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, or one of the veteran executives from the agency, Leandra English.

Mulvaney showed up at the agency's headquarters in Washington early in the morning carrying a bag of donuts and then firing an email ordering the staff to ignore any request for English. His office tweeted photos of Mulvaney taking part in office meetings and invited the press to announce that he had declared a temporary freeze on hiring and regulation.

Trump "wants me to do it [the agency] back to the point where I can protect people without trampling capitalism," Mulvaney said.

English, meanwhile, came to the office and sent an email early in the morning welcoming the 1,600 staff back from the Thanksgiving holiday and then headed to Capitol Hill, where they met with several Democratic legislators. He had his first public appearance before a barrage of cameras and journalists sitting next to Senators Charles E. Schumer (Democrat for New York) and Elizabeth Warren (Democrat for Mbadachusetts). Barely audible, English said lawmakers had been "very useful."

The confusion promised to continue for at least another day after a federal judge – a recent nominee for Trump – declined to immediately rule on the application for a temporary restraining order preventing Mulvaney from taking the control. [19659003] English lawyer, Deepak Gupta, asked the US District Judge. UU., Timothy J. Kelly, who rules "as quickly as possible" in a way that can be appealed immediately. "Everyone needs to know who is the director of the office," Gupta said.

The confrontation is fast becoming one of the Trump administration's most important efforts to roll back government oversight of the financial industry. And it is bringing to the head a partisan fight over a slow fire on the CFPB, an agency established in 2011 in response to the global financial crisis.

The tug of war left CFPB staff and contractors confused about how to proceed. Legal experts said that any action taken by Mulvaney or by the Englishman could be challenged later in the court if they do not prevail, effectively freezing the agency's work in progress. The CFPB, for example, is working on rules for debt collectors, which are now likely to stop, legal experts said.

Republicans have tried to wrest control of the agency for years, complaining that the CFPB lacked responsibility and its regulation made it more difficult for consumers to obtain a loan. Republicans in Congress, for example, recently voted to block a regulation that allows consumers to sue their banks, arguing that it would cause an avalanche of frivolous lawsuits and raise costs. On Twitter, Trump called the agency a " total disaster ".

[Wall Street wins big as Senate votes to roll back regulations allowing consumers to sue their banks]

But Democrats and consumer advocates have applauded CFPB's aggressive actions against large financial institutions, noting their record $ 100 million fine against Wells Fargo to open millions of false accounts that consumers did not want. The agency, they say, was intentionally created to be independent of Congress and the political pressure of the White House. Schumer said he recalled language added to legislation on who could temporarily replace an absent director to further limit political interference.

The White House and the Consumer Financial Protection Office disagree about who should direct the watchdog agency as its interim director: the chief of staff of his former director, Leandra English, or the budget director of the House Blanca, Mick Mulvaney, who has called the agency "a practical joke." (Jenny Starrs / The Washington Post)

"By the way we put that in to avoid putting a fox in charge of the henhouse," he told reporters.

The Trump administration spent months in private that the former director of CFPB, Richard Cordray, initially did not resign as other regulators of the banking industry after the elections, and recently accused him of using his office to gain political favor . A former Ohio attorney general, Cordray, is rumored to be interested in running for governor.

"We believe that many of the previous practices under the previous director and under the previous administration were used more to advance political ambitions and not to protect American consumers, which is what it is supposed to be," said the secretary of White House press, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Monday.

When Cordray resigned on Friday, she started a confrontation with the White House by promoting her chief of staff, English, to the deputy director, and saying that she would serve as acting director until the Senate confirmed her permanent replacement. Trump counterattacked a few hours later by announcing that Mulvaney would take over the job.

[CFPB official Leandra English sues to block Trump White House pick Mick Mulvaney]

Both parties spent the holiday weekend in a war of words about the fine print of dueling with federal statutes. English supporters argue that the legislation that created the agency in 2010, the Dodd-Frank Act, gave the power to appoint an acting director of Cordray. And some questioned whether Mulvaney would have the time to properly manage such a large agency and at the same time be the director of the Office of Management and Budget. As head of OMB, he has the task of negotiating budget agreements with Capitol Hill. An agreement must be negotiated before a deadline next week to avoid a partial closure of the government. Mulvaney said he plans to work three days a week at the agency and three days at the WBO.

"President Trump put a cloud over the agency by invoking a statute [to appoint Mulvaney] that does not apply here," said Warren, who, as a bankruptcy professor at Harvard Law School, came up with the idea of ​​the agency. "The agency has been an effective policeman in the pace, and the banks do not want an effective policeman in the rhythm."

Schumer said Trump has nominated people dedicated to firing the agencies for which they were nominated. Mulvaney, he said, is "the last in a line of Trojan horse candidates."

Trump has installed new leadership at the top of several other regulatory agencies, many of which have already adopted a more business-friendly tone. He is likely to follow that pattern with his eventual nominee to replace Cordray, a decision Mulvaney said will happen quickly.

Mulvaney, a frequent critic of the CFPB, once called the agency a "joke." . . in a sad and sick way. "He remained firm in the 2015 comments on Monday, but said concerns among some consumer advocates were exaggerated.

" Rumors that I'm going to set fire to the place or blow it up or close the doors are completely false " He said, "We intend to enforce the laws of the United States, including the Dodd-Frank provisions that govern the CFPB."

At the court hearing, Mulvaney's judge, Brett Shumate, badistant attorney general, he was questioned by the judge if the government would agree that the English would not dissolve, to eliminate some of the urgency of the matter.

Shumate said he could not "give any representation or badurance about that score."

For confused CFPB employees, José Andrés, the famous Washington chef who once had his own legal dispute with the president over the operation of a restaurant at the Trump & # 39; s DC hotel, offered a respite. "Do you have two? bosses? Bring a proof that you work there at any of our DC restaurants and the first drink is for us ", offered on Twitt er .

Steven Mufson, Spencer H. Hsu and Thomas Heath contributed to this report.

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