Well, this is awkward.
Four witnesses on the "constitutionality" of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sat before a House subcommittee on Tuesday morning, lending their expert knowledge to help sort through the current state of confusion around the bureau.
The House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations dubbed the hearing “The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s Unconstitutional Design.”
But instead of providing their expertise on the CFPB and its constitutionality, the four witnesses were tossed around between House Republicans who profusely thanked them for coming and House Democrats who condemned the hearing entirely.
Ted Olson, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, fielded most of the questions, and attacks, since he is also lead counsel to PHH in its current case against the CFPB.
His role in the PHH case was also a major point of contention during the hearing. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, used his entire time to emphasize the conflict of interest in Olson being there, even questioning the other witnesses to see what they thought about it.
They, however, didn’t have much of an opinion on it and mostly seemed frustrated about why they were even being questioned on it.
On the other hand, Republicans, like Rep. Scott R. Tipton, R-Co., used most of their time to ask Olson questions in order to prove their feelings about the constitutionality of the CFPB.
In a response to a question Tipton asked, Olson stated that that CFPB is very dangerous because it’s the very definition of tyranny.
“You have to have accountability. [The CFPB] is not accountable to you or the president. Who can control that agency? No one can control that agency,” he said.
Olson ended up continuously repeating this same concept in different phrases and wordings throughout the entire hearing.
Later, in response to a question from Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., Olson said that he has never seen the breadth of authority of the CFPB and the lack of oversight and responsibility to Congress in any other agency.
The other two panelists, Saikrishna Prakash, James Monroe distinguished professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, and Adam White, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, often received the same questions as Olson, with the fourth panelist left out of the mix.
Oddly enough, the fourth panelist, Brianne Gorod, chief counsel with the Constitution Accountability Center, who was clearly brought on to represent the opinion of committee Democrats and the only witness defending the CFPB, was barely given any time from either side of the aisle to explain her stance.
And Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who is one of the most adamant about defending the CFPB and who you think would be the most apt to give Gorod a platform to defend the CFPB could barely remember Gorod’s name to thank her for being there.
Rather than let the one person who came to defend the CFPB state her case, Waters used her time to admonish the three other witnesses, stating, “I don’t even want to talk to you.”
And going back to a previous point made, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., was quick to point out that it’s “incredibly hypocritical” for Green to point out Olson’s involvement in the PHH case when Gorod is also involved in the PHH case.
The intention of the hearing to examine whether the structure of the CFPB violates the Constitution was lost amid the two political parties arguing over even hosting the hearing in the first place.
Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., seemed to voice the point of why House Republicans wanted to host the hearing, echoing thoughts later said by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, explaining that everyone is only focused on the results of the CFPB. But, he emphasized they want the CFPB to get the results by the right process.
However, this message barely came through due to the extreme difference in opinions from the two parties. And what could’ve answered some much-needed clarification about the bureau was buried under the tension in the room.
This brings those watching for answers on the constitutionality of the CFPB back to waiting for the outcome of the PHH and CFPB case.
In the meantime, HousingWire is hosting a free webinar Q&A on March 29 with industry experts to address the confusion of the CFPB, along with how to mortgage businesses in the meantime. And we promise not to cut them off like this hearing did.