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Politics: Who Will Lead The CFPB, Trump And Roy Moore


The stage is set for a moment of high drama on Monday morning at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Outgoing head Richard Cordray named his chief of staff, Leandra English, deputy director of the agency last Friday and also announced that that makes her automatically the acting director. Just hours later, President Trump named his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, acting director. Mr. Mulvaney, while he was in Congress, tried to shut down the bureau. And President Trump appears to be giving Mulvaney an opportunity to carry on. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, joins us now. Hi, Mara.


WERTHEIMER: So this may be an awkward moment tomorrow morning, potentially a protracted process as officials try to sort out exactly who legally has the power to name the new chief at the CFPB. Does it seem to you that the administration will prevail?

LIASSON: Yes, I think so. And once again, Trump is putting an ardent enemy of an agency in charge of it. Mulvaney once called the CFPB a sad, sick joke. And this is one of the ways that the president's had a big impact on policy, even though he's had no significant legislative victories. He's aggressively overturned Obama-era regulations, and he's hollowed out and kind of radically changed the missions of agencies like the EPA.

And some of this is within the normal ideological back-and-forth. When Republicans are in power, corporations tend to have more power. When Democrats are in the White House, consumers and citizens get a little more. But the president is moving very, very aggressively to take control of these agencies.

WERTHEIMER: He's also moving very aggressively on appointing judges because President Obama left so many judicial appointments empty.

LIASSON: That's right. The Republicans prevented President Obama from filling so many judgeships. Mitch McConnell was really successful at blocking Obama's court nominees. Merrick Garland was only the most famous example of this. But now Donald Trump has hundreds of openings to fill, and he's moving very aggressively to fill them. So again, while he hasn't passed big pieces of legislation, he will have a huge impact on American life through the courts for a generation.

WERTHEIMER: And speaking of big legislation that has not yet passed, there's the tax bill.

LIASSON: There's a tax bill - seems to have some momentum, passed the House, passed a committee in the Senate. It got a new boost from Lisa Murkowski, who said she'll probably vote for it because in return, she's going to get some drilling in Alaska. We don't know yet how many true deficit hawks are left in the Senate. Generally, Republicans care more about the deficit when there's a Democrat in the White House. But Republicans are really eager to pass this tax bill because it'll be the only thing they have to bring home to voters, the only big piece of legislation.

WERTHEIMER: So to pass this overhaul, they need all the votes they can get, and that brings us to Roy Moore. President Trump has gone from calling for the Alabama Senate candidate to step aside to defending him in spite of allegations that he pursued teenage girls while he was in his 30s. What is going on there?

LIASSON: Well, that's right. The White House has dropped all pretense of being concerned about the allegations against Moore. They say they need and want his vote in the Senate. There's something else at work, too, because the president can't say he believes the women who've accused Roy Moore because he says all the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct are liars. So in one sense, he has to side with Roy Moore's denials. And I think the White House doesn't want to be on the losing side twice in Alabama.

You know, the president backed Luther Strange in the primary, who lost to Roy Moore. And even though some polls are showing the race tight, the math is very, very hard for a Democrat to win in Alabama. They'd have to get massive African-American turnout and close to a third of the white vote, which hasn't happened in many decades. So I think the White House is betting Moore will win, but we've still got more than two weeks to go.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.