Senate Panel Approves Kraninger As CFPB Head

23 hours ago
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Senate Banking Committee this morning narrowly approved the nomination of Kathleen Kraninger to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Her nomination passed on a party-line vote. This is a nomination that stirred a lot of controversy. And let's hear why from NPR's Yuki Noguchi, who's in our studio. Hey, Yuki.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Why - not every nomination in the Senate Banking Committee touches off nerves like this one did. Remind us what's going on here.

NOGUCHI: It has very much to do with the polarized nature of the organization she's going to lead. The CFPB is a watchdog group. It was created to try to safeguard consumers against some of the losses they suffered in the mortgage and financial crisis.

But Republicans have often argued the agency wields too much power. And this administration has been paring back those powers from within. So that has Democrats very defensive about the agency and its original mission. Kraninger once interned for Democrat Sherrod Brown, for example, when he was an Ohio congressman. And now he's become one of her harshest critics.

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SHERROD BROWN: What she hasn't told us is that she'll be an independent advocate for American consumers - the entire job she is supposed to do.

NOGUCHI: So Democrats argue that the bureau is one of the only defenses consumers have against abuses by banks and payday lenders.

GREENE: Well, I mean, that's the general debate going on. But what specifically are Democrats criticizing her for?

NOGUCHI: Twofold. One is that she has no relevant experience when it comes to consumer protection. She has a long history of public service, but none of it is about protecting consumers. The other is political. Kathy Kraninger has worked at the - in the Office of Management and Budget, where Democrats contend she botched the government's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

And they say she played a key role in overseeing the administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border, though Kraninger declined to answer questions about what exactly her role was in implementing that policy. Here again is Senator Brown on that point from today.

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BROWN: She doesn't have any expertise in consumer protection. She brags about her management expertise, but she won't share documents about the two most important things she did - Puerto Rico and family separation policy.

GREENE: OK. So she didn't share as much as what Democrats would've liked her to share. What did she share about how she would run this agency and what her priorities might be?

NOGUCHI: Well, to Democrats, one of the problems is she wasn't forthcoming about her management experiences, as we just heard. But what she has said is that she supports the policies implemented to-date by the most recent director Mick Mulvaney. He was her boss at OMB, and she's likely to follow his lead in continuing this pullback on some of the Consumer Bureau's more hard-charging initiatives.

For example, Mulvaney canceled pursuing claims against some payday lenders. And more recently, he announced the agency would no longer monitor banks and payday lenders for their compliance with the Military Lending Act, which is designed to protect service members from financial fraud or predatory loans.

GREENE: Yeah. We've had a lot of reporting on that on our air. I mean, there's been so much controversy over the CFPB and whether it should be independent. Has she come out and said what she thinks about that?

NOGUCHI: Yeah. She's - or at least she's referred to how she wants the agency to be accountable. And that's an apparent reference to the desire of many Republicans to give Congress oversight over the agency, mostly by controlling its budget and being able to question its decision-making. Currently, the CFPB is an independent body, so it's not subject to such oversight.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Yuki Noguchi this morning in our studios in Washington. Yuki, thanks.

NOGUCHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.