Warren: The CFPB leader who wasn’t

Elizabeth Warren, architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will forever live in the annals of mortgage finance history as the face of an agency she never officially led. After a year of contentious congressional battles over Warren and the CFPB, President Obama announced he would skip over the Harvard professor as nominee (although he didn’t actually say that) and choose former Ohio AG Richard Cordray to serve as director of the consumer agency that Warren built. Whether this appointment will stymie criticism of the CFPB is unknown. After all, critics of the agency have publicly stated it’s not Warren, per say, who is the problem, but the entire structure of the agency and the role outlined for the bureau in Dodd-Frank. One of the agency’s biggest critics, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), met with Warren earlier in the year and walked away saying he “liked Warren personally and feels she is highly intelligent.” His concern was over the CFPB’s general role in the economy and the type of power it would have over financial markets. He was criticizing the machine built by Dodd-Frank, not necessarily Warren, herself. The battle came to head in June when Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) publicly debated Warren over subjects like when she was supposed to leave a congressional hearing and the $20 billion-plus mortgage servicer settlement. Despite this public display of bomb throwing, McHenry said in another hearing last week that he agreed with Warren’s attempt to create a standard mortgage disclosure form. McHenry admitted he spearheaded a similar initiative a few years back. Much like other critics, McHenry’s points of agreement with Warren did not deter him from directing his criticism towards the agency’s structure and the perceived lack of oversight when it comes to the CFPB’s power to effectuate the direction of lending institutions. During all of these battles, Warren assured critics the bureau has checks and balances, while also admitting she expects the agency to be watched by Congress 24-7. Now with the appointment of a director who is not Warren, the president no longer has someone to play the role of contentious lady in the middle. From here on out, it’s no longer about the Harvard professor, but the CFPB itself, and its role in the overall economy. Warren seems to get this. She released a statement about the Cordray appointment. “In May, 44 Republican Senators wrote a letter saying that they will block anyone from serving as CFPB director,” she said. “Many of them don’t like either the agency nor the ideas that led to its creation. They lost that fight last summer in a straight-up vote, but they have said they will use a filibuster over nomination to undercut the agency and its effectiveness.” Since the controversial mortgage servicing settlement with AGs has been a huge battle for Warren and the CFPB, it would be hard to imagine Obama is going to escape criticism by picking another name out of the hat. But as in all things with the CFPB, we’ll have to wait and see. It took a year just to get an official director nominated by the president. Write to Kerri Panchuk.

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