Column: ‘Unqualified’ and ‘dangerous’ Trump appointee set to take over consumer agency
If all goes according to Republican plan, this is the week a person with no experience in consumer protection will take over the consumer watchdog agency that the party has been steadily weakening to the point of irrelevancy.
Kathy Kraninger, a White House budget official, received the green light for final approval last week after Republican senators shut down debate on her nomination with a party-line vote of 50 to 49. The only wild card is whether memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush will delay action by a few days.
Kraninger would replace White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who has been leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis and fulfilling President Trump’s pledge to make the agency friendlier to the businesses it was intended to crack down on — banks, payday lenders and others.
“If the Senate approves this unqualified acolyte of Mick Mulvaney, who has no consumer protection or financial regulation experience, expect her to simply follow his playbook,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
That means Kraninger will “leave service members and their families at the mercy of predatory lenders, work with payday lenders to eliminate the payday lending rule even Congress was afraid to vote to repeal, and reduce enforcement penalties, if any, to parking tickets, not punishments,” he said.
Kraninger has been opposed by Democrats and consumer advocates from the moment Trump tapped her for a five-year term as CFPB director.
It’s not that she has a dubious past like some other Trump appointees (see: Whitaker, Wheeler, Zinke, etc.). Rather, Kraninger, 43, is simply the wrong person for the job.
She has never worked in consumer affairs, never worked in financial services, never worked as a financial regulator, never held public office and never run a government agency.
Kraninger currently serves as an associate director for general government with the White House Office of Management and Budget. She’s done prior stints at the Transportation and Homeland Security departments and as a congressional staffer.
Mulvaney says Kraninger possesses “the kind of experience Washington so desperately needs.”
Which is to say, in the Trump administration, no experience in her relevant field (see: Perry, Carson, DeVos, etc.).
Dozens of consumer, civil rights and labor groups submitted a letter to the Senate Banking Committee in August arguing that Kraninger is unfit to lead the CFPB.
“Ms. Kraninger has shown no track record and given no indication in her confirmation hearing or public statements that she would defend the interests of consumers,” they wrote.
“Everything we have heard from Ms. Kraninger suggests that she will continue in the line of the dangerous leadership of acting Director Mick Mulvaney and prioritize the interests of industry over consumers and the rule of law.”
Industry, needless to say, thinks she’s swell.
In their own letter to Senate leaders, nearly two dozen housing-related financial trade groups — including the Mortgage Bankers Assn. and the American Escrow Assn. — declared last month that Kraninger has their unequivocal support.
“Our organizations believe Ms. Kraninger has the ability to lead and manage a large government agency, like the bureau, which is tasked to ensure consumers’ financial interests are protected,” they said.
Industry players repeatedly have said they support a CFPB that allows for a “fair, transparent and competitive” financial marketplace, which is code for supporting a consumer agency that’s a watchdog in name only.
That’s what the Trump administration has been striving to give them. Under Mulvaney’s leadership, the bureau has stepped back from most regulatory and enforcement functions, and has sent clear signals to payday lenders and others that they have little to worry about.
Mulvaney has “worked at every opportunity to undermine consumer protection at the agency,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League.
“We need a strong advocate at the CFPB with a history of working to champion consumer interests against debt collectors, student loan outfits and the big banks,” she said.
Kraninger is not that person, consumer advocates say.
“Kathy Kraninger will by all indications carry water for Mick Mulvaney’s not-so-secret plans to weaken, even destroy, the bureau,” said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action.
That’s why Democrats have consistently voted against her appointment, recognizing that Kraninger is symptomatic of a larger trend in the Trump administration to undo consumer safeguards and allow businesses to roam unleashed in the dog park of American capitalism.
“It isn’t Ms. Kraninger’s management experience that got her a giant promotion,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said last week as Republicans halted debate on the nomination. “It’s her enthusiasm for Mick Mulvaney’s anti-consumerism agenda that earned her this reward from President Trump.”
Warren noted that she asked Kraninger at her confirmation hearing if there was a single action taken by Mulvaney that she disagreed with — just one.
“And she said, ‘I cannot identify any actions that the acting director Mulvaney has taken with which I disagree.’”
Before Trump came into office, the CFPB said it had returned about $12 billion to aggrieved consumers who had been mistreated by financial firms large and small.
Why are these firms now so enamored of Kraninger?
I can think of 12 billion reasons.