Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Chief Responds To Republican Critics
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Boy, did the gloves come off at a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday. Richard Cordray came to testify. He's director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is an agency created under President Obama to protect consumers and make sure they don't fall prey to big banks. This came after the financial crisis. Republicans have opposed the agency, and now they control Congress. Yesterday, Republican Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, went after Cordray and his agency, the CFPB.
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JEB HENSARLING: For conducting unlawful activities, abusing his authority, denying market participants due process, Richard Cordray should be dismissed by our president. Not only must Mr. Cordray go, but this CFPB must go as well.
GREENE: Not a lot of ambiguity there. CFPB Director Richard Cordray joins us on the line this morning. Good morning.
RICHARD CORDRAY: Good morning, David.
GREENE: Well, that did not sound fun yesterday.
CORDRAY: Actually, I find those hearings interesting and instructive. They're a good oversight, and they give us a chance to talk about the work we're doing on behalf of American consumers, which is a great story to tell.
GREENE: Really? I mean, your skin is that thick. You were - I mean, you were attacked by Republicans for a good amount of time.
CORDRAY: (Laughter) I'm used to it, and I try to let it roll off me.
GREENE: Why do they hate you so much?
CORDRAY: I think that if you're going after large banks and large financial companies to try to make sure people are being treated fairly, you're going to make some enemies, and you're going to make people uncomfortable. But that's the job we're supposed to do. It's an important job for Americans. It's a job that, frankly, if it had been done better before the financial crisis, things might have been a lot different in this country and people would be better off today.
GREENE: So the Republican argument is that you and your agency have in some cases actually failed to protect consumers and in fact have harmed them through enforcement actions that they say may have made credit less available and more expensive. They say that you can scare lenders away from making inexpensive loans available because of all this enforcement. Do they have a point at all?
CORDRAY: Well, I think that people criticize us sometimes for doing too much. And then when we do things and they're good things and they don't like to give us credit, they nitpick that as much as possible. The bottom line is we have a job to do. It's to support and protect consumers around this country. Everybody knows that when they have a problem with a debt collector or on a credit report or dealing with a large financial company where they feel mistreated, it's a very difficult thing to get responses and to get things fixed. And that's something that we're doing for people. I think the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is much needed. I think we would be quite misguided to think that we should weaken it or destroy it.
GREENE: If I may just get to the substance of that question, I mean, is there some truth in what Republicans have said, that through these enforcement actions you have lenders who are scared away and that consumers might actually suffer because they can't get inexpensive loans?
CORDRAY: Well, the question is not can they get any loans. It's whether they can get responsible loans that they can sustain over the course of their lives. And before the crisis, there were a lot of bad mortgages made to people, terrible mortgages. They blew up the economy. They ruined a lot of people's lives. And the question is, should we have some commonsense rules of the road and guardrails around these markets to make sure that people will be treated fairly and on a basis that can be sustainable? That's something that we've been working on for five years now, and I think it's very important work. And I think those who would try to weaken the agency are missing the importance of this work for individuals and families all over the country.
GREENE: So I hear you saying there might be some inexpensive loans that you might find irresponsible. They might not be available to consumers if you take these tough enforcement actions but that on balance you believe your agency is protecting people.
CORDRAY: Well, let me put it a different way. More than 90 percent of the enforcement actions we've taken - and we've been - we've gotten back almost $12 billion to 29 million people across this country - have been in matters where at least one or more of the claims was that the institution deceived their customers. That's something that should be acted on. It is something that is against the law. But if the law is not enforced, then people will be deceived, the markets won't work properly and people will be harmed. That's not what anybody should want.
GREENE: Just a little bit of time left. We have this legal battle now over whether President Trump can fire you before your term ends in 2018. There was a panel of judges who suggested that's probably so. That's under review now. If he does get the right to fire you and he fires you, are you going to fight that?
CORDRAY: So that's a battle - that's an issue that's in the courts. I respect the courts. They will do their job. We will all abide by the outcome. Until that happens, my job is to focus on enforcing the law and protecting American consumers. I'm going to continue to do that. And I think it's really important work, David.
GREENE: OK. Richard Cordray is director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Thanks so much for the time this morning. We appreciate it.
CORDRAY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.