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5 takeaways from CFPB chief’s visit to Capitol Hill

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WASHINGTON — In her appearance before the House Financial Services Committee Thursday, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger gave the panel’s Democratic majority little assurance that she would reverse decisions made by former Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, but she also appeared supportive of the agency’s mission to look after consumers.

The hearing, part of the CFPB’s semiannual report to Congress, was a crucial test for Democratic House leaders in their oversight of the bureau’s Trump-appointed leadership, and of how Kraninger would fare under the spotlight of congressional scrutiny.

During the hearing, Kraninger was non-combative as Democrats took her and the agency to task for its policy reforms put in place after former Obama-appointed Director Richard Cordray stepped down in 2017.

The new CFPB director insisted that she is committed to the agency’s mission of protecting consumers, but offered little insight into the direction of the agency’s rulemakings or restructing, including a proposal to abandon tough new underwriting requirements in the agency’s payday lending rule drafted under Cordray.

Kraninger also said she is focused on supervision and prevention, rather than on enforcement. Republicans consistently criticized Cordray for what they described as “regulation by enforcement.”

Here are key takeaways from the hearing:

Democrats struggled to land blows in questioning Kraninger

CFPB oversight hearings on Capitol Hill have produced fireworks in the past.

When Republicans held the majority in both chambers of Congress, their questioning of former CFPB Director Richard Cordray was aggressive, and Cordray at times reacted angrily. Mick Mulvaney, appointed as acting director by the Trump administration, similarly bristled at times last year under a barrage of questioning from Democratic lawmakers.

But despite tough questions from both sides of the aisle during a hearing Thursday, Kraninger kept her cool. She appeared unfazed through most of the hearing and appeared intent on striking a balance. On the one hand, she seemed sympathetic to GOP concerns about the CFPB having too much power, but she also spoke in support of the agency’s mission, its staff and the consumers it serves.

If anything, Kraninger labored hard to appear nonpartisan — and largely succeeded in that mission, something neither of her predecessors managed.

“I expect to emphasize stability, consistency and transparency as hallmarks as we mature the agency and institutionalize the many partnerships that are key to our success in protecting consumers,” Kraninger said in her opening remarks. “I am also examining how we can best utilize all of the tools that Congress has given this agency, broadening our efforts to focus on the prevention of harm for the primary goal of our actions.”

However, Democrats on the House committee kept up their criticism of both Kraninger and Mulvaney as well as attempts by GOP lawmakers to roll back the CFPB’s authority.

“Despite these successes, congressional Republicans have done everything they can to stymie the consumer bureau’s work. … I’m deeply concerned about the damage they have done,” said House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif. “This committee will not tolerate the Trump administration’s anti-consumer actions.”

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