Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), appeared at a joint meeting of Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) and the Peterson Institute on Nov. 7 to answer questions posed and moderated by Ben White, chief economic correspondent for Politico, who has a habit of asking questions and feeding the answers at the same time, leaving little for the guest to do.
However, while Cordray is a plodding speaker, he is very effective in a Q&A format, including at congressional hearings, where opening statements are usually limited to five minutes. As a former Democratic Attorney General of Ohio, Cordray is something of a politico himself, and like most former AGs, is frequently mentioned as a likely candidate for governor, senator or first one, then the other.
This article logically follows the report on a speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., before another meeting of AFR. Warren conceived the CFPB as an agency that would consolidate the consumer protection functions that lay mostly dormant within the financial regulators for many years, and it was included in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. She was in line to be its first director, but Senate Republicans blocked her nomination, so now, after the administration used every trick in the book, including a recess appointment Republicans claimed was illegal, the administration put Cordray in place and then managed to engineer his confirmation.
White's first question asked Cordray to respond to charges by Warren that five years after the 2008 episode of the ongoing financial crisis and three years after the enactment of Dodd-Frank, the financial system is still rigged against consumers and in favor of powerful financial interests.
Cordray said he had not heard the senator's remarks, but Congress determined that an agency was needed whose sole mission would be to stand up for consumers. (If he had heard Warren, he could have pointed out that Warren specifically excluded the CFPB from her critique.)
In response to repeated questions about Republican criticisms of the CFPB's work, Cordray artfully stated that he appreciates the oversight role of Congress and has made changes in the operations of the CFPB in response to their input. He explained that as a result of a complaint by Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., that the CFPB did not post its regulatory agenda on its website as the Securities and Exchange Commission does, Cordray posted the information.
After Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, questioned the data collection policies of the CFPB, Cordray met with him and with other concerned senators to explain that in order to provide a required report on credit card regulation and to produce mortgage regulations on time, it was necessary to collect data on how the industry works.
When White asked Cordray about his choice to commute from Ohio rather than live in Washington, Cordray cleverly said that this gave him a better understanding than otherwise of the sacrifices congressmen make, and it also enabled him to keep in touch with the views of citizens outside the "prosperity bubble" of Washington.
He might have added that this is a smart way to prepare for a future race in Ohio, but he insisted this is "not germane" to his work.
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