Already facing a lawsuit charging that his appointment to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is "unlawful," White House budget director Mick Mulvaney was confronted with outraged protests on Monday as he arrived at CFPB headquarters for his first day as "acting director" of the agency—a title also claimed by Leandra English, the CFPB's deputy director.
"This is about whose side President Trump is on—big banks, or working families. So far in his administration, he has chosen the big banks time after time."
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)Mulvaney and English began jostling for position almost immediately after the workday began Monday morning, with both insisting that the law is on their side.
In an email to CFPB staffers, English wrote "[i]t is an honor to work with all of you," signing the note "acting director." Around two hours later, Mulvaney sent his own message to the agency's 1,600 employees, imploring them to "disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as acting director."
Weighing in on who has the proper authority to run the agency, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)—co-author of the 2010 legislation that brought the CFPB into existence—concluded that it is "clearly" English.
"When we wrote the law creating the CFPB, we deliberately tried to give it some protection from the normal political process," Frank noted, arguing that such protections are necessary for an agency tasked with battling powerful Wall Street firms.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—an original architect of the CFPB—echoed Frank's conclusion in an interview with the Washington Post on Monday. "Dodd-Frank is quite specific: It provides its own succession planning," Warren observed. "There is no vacancy for President Trump to fill."
The demonstrators who gathered outside CFPB headquarters early Monday morning also expressed their agreement with Frank's assessment.
Led by a coalition of consumer advocacy groups including Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform, protesters denounced the White House's attempt to appoint Mulvaney and hoisted signs highlighting the CFPB's role in combating "the abuses of triple-digit interest payday and car-title lenders," going "to bat for victims of sham for-profit colleges," and "standing up to Wall Street banksters and fraudsters."
In a speech during Monday's gathering, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) argued that the Trump administration's effort to place Mulvaney at the helm of the CFPB represents an explicit move to "thwart the independence" of the agency and "vaporize" its power to protect consumers from predatory financial institutions.
As Common Dreams has reported, the legal stand-off between Mulvaney and English was sparked by CFPB director Richard Cordray's departure on Friday—a week sooner than anticipated.
Shortly after announcing his resignation, Cordray named English deputy director of the agency, placing her in line to become acting director according to Dodd-Frank. The Trump administration quickly countered by naming Mulvaney as interim CFPB chief, a move the White House has since justified by citing a Justice Department memo penned by Steven Engel—a DOJ attorney who has represented payday lenders before the CFPB, as David Dayen reported for The Intercept on Monday.
"Having a former adversary to CFPB weigh in on who is the legal acting director of the agency raises questions over Engel's independence and potential conflict of interest," Dayen wrote.
Sen. Warren concluded on Monday that the Trump administration's maneuvering also raises questions about the president's expressed commitment to being the "voice" of the working class.
"This is about whose side President Trump is on—big banks, or working families," Warren said. "So far in his administration, he has chosen the big banks time after time."
As the showdown at the agency continues, a ruling on the lawsuit filed by English from a federal district court is expected as the next legal development.
In what was characterized as "terrible luck" for the CFPB, English v. Trump was assigned to Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee.
This is terrible luck for the CFPB. There are 14 active judges on the federal district court in DC. 11 are Obama or Clinton appointees. 3 are Trump appointees. (Though, in fairness, there are more Republicans serving as semi-retired senior judges) https://t.co/gAhfVGNxxQ
— Ian Millhiser (@imillhiser) November 27, 2017