The Senate narrowly confirmed Kathy Kraninger for a five-year term as the head of the CFPB, putting her in charge of an Obama-era agency that became a lightning rod for Republican attacks over its aggressive enforcement.
Kraninger, nominated by President Donald Trump in June, was approved on a party-line 50-49 vote.
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The relatively unknown White House budget official, whose scant record on consumer finance and banking issues has confounded Democratic critics, will assume control of a regulator that looks markedly different from the one CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney took over in November 2017.
Mulvaney muffled the agency, a Democratic favorite, during his tumultuous year-long tenure — freezing data collection for six months, dramatically reining in enforcement actions, reorganizing the student loan and fair lending offices, and installing political appointees to run the consumer bureau’s day- to-day operations.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — who is credited with conceiving of the post-financial-crisis agency and helping set it up during the Obama administration — led the opposition among Democrats to the appointment. She warned colleagues before the vote that confirming Kraninger amounted to “a vote to defang the consumer watchdog that returned nearly $12 billion to consumers before Mr. Mulvaney assumed control.”
Republicans quickly lined up behind Kraninger on the endorsement of Mulvaney — her boss at OMB — after she was nominated.
Mulvaney’s supporters and critics alike see the appointment of one of his lieutenants as a way to ensure he keeps his hand in CFPB operations, especially after Kraninger said she “cannot identify any actions that [Mulvaney] has taken with which I disagree.”
Kraninger will have an opportunity to show how closely she hews to the Mulvaney approach early on: The bureau is expected to release its revision to the controversial payday lending rule in January, when it is also required to produce five-year lookbacks on three key Dodd-Frank rules regulating mortgages and remittances.
The first quarter will also bring the release of a debt-collection rule and a proposal to scale back the CFPB’s 2015 update to a mortgage disclosure law that helps track discrimination.
Mulvaney’s successor will have to decide whether to continue his sweeping review of agency operations and how to handle the responses to requests for information on nearly every aspect of the bureau’s work.
Democrats, meanwhile, will be scrutinizing Kraninger’s every move, with the incoming House majority pledging plenty of aggressive oversight.
Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who will take over as chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, says shielding the agency is a top priority. Waters introduced a bill in October to “reverse the harmful changes the Trump administration has imposed.”
Republican supporters have cast Kraninger — whose resumé includes stints as a staffer at the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Department of Homeland Security — as a no-nonsense technocrat with the management chops to overhaul the way the consumer agency is run.
Democrats have homed in on her role as an OMB official overseeing the agencies responsible for the Trump administration’s controversial family-separation border policy and flawed disaster recovery in Puerto Rico.
Kraninger repeatedly declined to describe her role in implementing those policies during a contentious Senate Banking Committee hearing in July and in subsequent follow-ups.