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Morning News Brief: Immigration Debate, CFPB Changes


Senators begin a debate on immigration today. And, Steve, this could sort of be a free for all, right?


Yeah, which is fine with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Last week, you may recall, he said, whoever gets to 60 votes, wins.


MITCH MCCONNELL: It will be an opportunity for a thousand flowers to bloom.

INSKEEP: Of course, there's no assurance that any of those flowers will be picked or however we want to extend this garden metaphor - no assurance that any particular bill will pass. McConnell did promise Democrats they could have this debate. In exchange, some weeks ago, Democrats ended a government shutdown, but McConnell did not say what they would vote on exactly. There is bipartisan support for a big priority giving legal status to people brought to the United States as children. President Trump, of course, wants funding for a wall. Some other measures are on the table. So the question is - what's a bill that gets 60 votes look like?

MARTIN: Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi (laughter).

MARTIN: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is here to answer that question. So we - this could be interesting, right? They're going to go to the floor of the U.S. Senate and actually have real debate. We don't see that that often.

SNELL: Yeah. We really don't see that that often. This is a wide, open process, and we don't know where we're starting or, frankly, where we're going to wind up, which is really, really interesting. A group of Republican senators introduced a bill last night that is essentially the White House framework that we've seen floating around for a little while, and we're expecting that'll get a vote. We're expecting something that could look like the original DREAM Act could get a vote.

And the idea is that they will go through, see what has the 60 votes necessary to pass in the Senate and then amend it along the way and hope that at the end of the day, at the end of the week or however long this takes, they have a bill that can get 60 votes and can be sent over to the House. And that is very rare, as you mentioned. Usually, it's - something gets passed out of committee or fully negotiated by leaders first, and the vote on the floor is essentially just an up-or-down, yes-or-no kind of situation.

MARTIN: Well, what do we know - what has traction? I mean, you say there's this White House-sanctioned bill that's been proposed.

SNELL: Right.

MARTIN: Does that have the votes at this point?

SNELL: That does not look like it has the votes, and it doesn't look like the DREAM Act would have the votes either. It's something somewhere in the middle, and part of the problem here is they've been really unable to work things out in these closed-door negotiations. And we saw White House folks were coming to the Hill on a nearly daily basis over the past couple of weeks trying to find a place to start, and they didn't get there.

MARTIN: So before, when we spoke last week, you said a particular hang up is about the parents of DREAMers.

SNELL: Yes, that's right.

MARTIN: Is that still the issue? What's the sticking point?

SNELL: That is still an issue. So Republicans refer to it as chain migration. It is this idea of how - who can immigrants bring to the country with them? So once you get protections, once you're here in the country, who can you bring with? And there's a fight about whether or not that should be extended to parents or if it should just be your nuclear family, your spouse, your children, people like that.

MARTIN: All right. So we also have one more thing to talk about because it's - after much hullabaloo over the past year, it is finally infrastructure week.

SNELL: It is (laughter).

MARTIN: (Laughter) We kept saying it because it felt like it was going to happen.

SNELL: We were almost there.

MARTIN: It's actually happening.

SNELL: (Laughter) It is.

MARTIN: The president is going to outline his infrastructure plan today. What's in it? How's he going to pay for it?

SNELL: It is about $1.5 trillion plan for overhauling the nation's entire infrastructure network. But unlike most other plans, this largely shifts the burden to state and local governments instead of focusing on federal funding. Not included, as predicted, was any change to the gas tax. That's what funds the federal Highway Trust Fund. They do want to spend about $20 billion on transformative projects, which the White House describes as forward-looking investments. It is a fairly well fleshed-out plan in terms of what they would like to achieve, but it's not well fleshed out in how they will pay for it or how they will get to what they want to achieve.

MARTIN: OK. Some minor details still to be hashed out. NPR's Kelsey Snell for us this morning. Thanks so much, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.


MARTIN: All right. Now some news about big changes coming at the federal watchdog agency known as the CFPB.

INSKEEP: CFPB - Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was created after the financial crisis, and its goal was to protect Americans from the scams of financial institutions. The agency is now led by President Trump's appointee, Mick Mulvaney, who was a former congressman who once called the CFPB a joke.


MICK MULVANEY: And that's what the CFPB really has been in a sick, sad kind of way. Some of us would like to get rid of it.

INSKEEP: Mulvaney is not quite getting rid of the agency, but he is making changes. An internal memo obtained by NPR News says the agency plans to become less aggressive, and that is frustrating staffers.

MARTIN: NPR's Chris Arnold has been following all this and joins us this morning. Hey, Chris.


MARTIN: What does it mean for the CFPB to be less aggressive?

ARNOLD: Well, like you were saying, the CFPB, since it was created after the financial crisis, has been this very independent and powerful regulator. And its - guards against people getting ripped off by financial firms basically. So Democrats think, oh, that sounds like a very good thing. It was set up, in part, by Elizabeth Warren. Republicans, though - as you just heard with Mick Mulvaney there - many of them have just hated this bureau since day one. They say it's too powerful. It's sort of regulation gone wild, if you will. Mulvaney was one of its harshest critics and even drafted legislation to abolish the bureau. So staffers there have been shocked and dismayed for a while now that he is now the guy - he is their new boss.

MARTIN: Right.

ARNOLD: So that's unsettling to them. So today, there's an internal memo we've seen that says that the CFPB is going to release this new strategic plan. And the message here in this and other memos is that going forward the bureau is not going to aggressively push the envelope, you know, in a quest to go after the bad guys. It's going to fulfill its statutory requirements but go no further. And Mulvaney says he wants more, quote, "humility and moderation."

MARTIN: Humility and moderation - all right. So changes have already started to happen at the agency, right? Just briefly, what's been going on?

ARNOLD: There is a lot of - quickly, under Mulvaney, a new regulation got put on hold. There was another investigation into a payday lender that just got dropped. And there's this one case in particular that I've been digging into, and it has a lot of staffers upset because Mulvaney dropped a lawsuit against what's allegedly an illegal online loan shark basically. And this company has been charging up to 950 percent interest rates, hurting a lot of people around the country. I spoke to one young woman in Detroit. Her name is Julie Bonenfant, and she's been having a tough time. Her boyfriend broke up with her, and she got her car stolen and other stuff. So she borrowed $900. So far, she's paid back more than $3,000. This is in less than a year, but she still owes money, and she just feels trapped in this loan.

JULIE BONENFANT: I'm trying not to cry, but it was just such a bad year. And obviously, I didn't really want to tell anybody, like, what had happened because it was so embarrassing and so shameful that I would have fallen for something like this.


ARNOLD: Yeah, so - and staffers worked on this case for years, and they're upset that the case just got dropped. So the worry going forward is like, hey, is this just the beginning? Is this going to get worse? Is this bureau going to be - continue to get muzzled? And right now, Mick Mulvaney is going through a stack of investigations and lawsuits and deciding, are we going to continue with these or abandon them?

MARTIN: NPR's Chris Arnold for us this morning. Thanks so much, Chris.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Rachel.


MARTIN: So the #MeToo movement caught fire after the allegations of sexual assault came out against film producer Harvey Weinstein. And it wasn't just the abuse that caught people's attention. It was the culture of silence that allowed the abuse to continue for so many years.

INSKEEP: Now a civil rights lawsuit targets that culture. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed it against The Weinstein Company. He accuses the company of failing to, quote, "protect its employees from pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination."

MARTIN: CNN's Hadas Gold joins us now on Skype. We want to warn listeners we are going to get into descriptions of sex assault in this conversation. Hadas, good morning.

HADAS GOLD: Good morning.

MARTIN: What are some of the allegations laid out in the suit?

GOLD: So a lot of the allegations are things that we've read about in those explosive New York Times and New Yorker articles. But the suit specifically alleges that assistants were required to facilitate Harvey Weinstein's sex life and that they themselves were sometimes harassed and intimidated into sexual relationships. And while there are some new details - they include just other sort of lurid interactions. And specifically in this case, especially because it deals with employees, there's some instances where women were making complaints to the human resources department. And at least in one instance, the suit alleges that those complaints were forwarded directly to Harvey Weinstein.

MARTIN: So what does the attorney general in New York - what does he want out of this suit for Weinstein's employees?

GOLD: So this suit is part of a four-month investigation that the attorney general has been undertaking, and really, they filed it sort of quickly over this weekend because The Weinstein Company is about to be sold to a former small business administration leader, Maria Contreras-Sweet, who used to work for the Obama administration. And they say that they were - the attorney general said he was fearful that the sale would not include proper compensation, would not allow victims to be properly compensated. And that's why they filed the lawsuit, and now the sale is on hold.

MARTIN: So is there any response from Harvey Weinstein himself or his attorneys to this?

GOLD: Yeah. So Harvey Weinstein says that he believes a fair investigation by the attorney general will demonstrate that many of the allegations are without merit, and they say that while his behavior was not without fault, that the - Harvey Weinstein's representatives say there certainly was no criminality and that they hope at the end of the inquiry it will be clear that he promoted women to key executive positions more than any other industry leader. The board has also said that they are disappointed in the lawsuit and that many of the allegations the board believes are inaccurate and that they look forward to bringing the facts to light.

MARTIN: This is the bottom line, though. This is just about, you know, companies needing to be held accountable for the cultures they create that can bring something like this to bear, someone in such a powerful position allowed to perpetuate this kind of abuse over years.

GOLD: Yes, exactly. And the main thrust of this lawsuit is less so about those, you know, the sexual harassment allegations and just about the employees and what they were subjected to.

MARTIN: Right. CNN's Hadas Gold, thanks so much for being with us this morning and sharing your reporting on it.

GOLD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF B-SIDE AND PHILANTHROPE'S "SUNSET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.