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Morning News Brief


Congressman John Conyers is back to work this week. But he is no longer serving in one key role - at least that's the case for now.


Yeah, the Michigan Democrat announced yesterday that he is going to step down from his ranking leadership of the House Judiciary Committee, this as another House committee investigates Conyers over sexual harassment claims. John Conyers denies these allegations again. His office has, however, acknowledged that it did pay a settlement to a former staffer back in 2015. That staffer said she lost her job after she accused Conyers of harassment.

On NBC's "Meet The Press" yesterday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was on, and she refused to criticize Congressman Conyers.


NANCY PELOSI: John Conyers is an icon in our country. He's done a great deal to protect women.

MARTIN: So the question - how might these developments come into play before another big election year?

GREENE: Well, let's bring in NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Morning, Mara.


GREENE: So am I getting the sense that Democrats are really struggling with this?

LIASSON: Yes, Democrats are really struggling with this. They want to be the party with the moral high ground on sexual harassment. But they are struggling with, what's the standard? What's the line where you ask someone to step down - lose their job? What's the process for adjudicating these allegations?

Many Democrats thought Nancy Pelosi on "Meet The Press" yesterday didn't help because it sounded like she was protecting Conyers the way that Donald Trump is protecting Roy Moore. But later, Democrats explained she was just trying to ease Conyers out of his leadership position, which he did step down from just hours after her appearance.

But this is a big problem for Democrats because if they can't come up with a clear standard, then they lose the moral highground. And they need it because women are such a large part of their base.

GREENE: Where does this go from here? I mean, Pelosi spoke about an ethics process. We have Conyers. We have Senator Franken. What is going to happen now?

LIASSON: Well, both of them are going to go through an ethics process. Franken has apologized. He's admitted the accusations against him. Conyers has denied them. Conyers has already gone through a process that resulted in a settlement to a former employee. One of the things that's being talked about in Congress is making these settlements public. After all, taxpayers are paying for them. And in the...

GREENE: No one knows how many settlements there may be because...

LIASSON: That's right. That's right - and what they were for.

GREENE: ...There's been no transparency.

LIASSON: And in addition to Conyers and Franken, the Democrats - many Democrats are also rethinking their embrace of Bill Clinton who was impeached for actions associated with a sexual harassment claim.

So each one of these cases has different facts. The question is, should the consequences be uniform? But this is difficult because Democrats want to own this issue. It's on them. Republicans don't seem to care as much about this.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about the Republicans because you have the president and you have - it seems now - his support of Roy Moore in that Alabama Senate race.

LIASSON: That's right. The president went through a process. First, he said if the allegations were true, Moore should step down. Then, he said it's up to the voters of Alabama. Now he's come out as a full-throated supporter of Moore. He says Moore denies these accusations. So if Democrats are struggling to be the party that believes women, Republicans - at least the president and the Moore campaign - are the party that says the women are liars.

And the president has been tweeting, we can't let Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi win this race. And if Roy Moore does win with the president's support, it's going to cause a lot of headaches for Senate Republicans because there will be an ethics process to investigate him and an attempt to expel him.

GREENE: All right, much more to talk about, I'm sure, in both parties. NPR's Mara Liasson.

Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you.


GREENE: All right, this morning promises to be really unusual at one particular Washington, D.C., workplace.

MARTIN: Right.

GREENE: That is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

MARTIN: So this is the agency that came to be in 2010 under the Obama administration. This was part of the Dodd-Frank regulatory bill that was passed after the recession. And it was designed to help people navigate issues with banks and businesses. The agency has been embroiled in partisan politics almost since its inception. So - on Friday, its longtime director, Richard Cordray, left his job and appointed a temporary successor. The problem is, David, so did the White House, naming OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to this job. So I guess it's going to be first come, first served for the corner office this morning.

GREENE: (Laughter) Well, NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner is - has been following this whole thing.

Hey, Uri.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Hey, David. How are you?

GREENE: I'm good. So (laughter) who's the boss at the CFPB when the doors open?

BERLINER: You know, I really wish I knew the answer to that. You know, we've been used to strange things happening in Washington with some regularity. But this has to be one of the weirdest yet. I mean, this is really just kind of an unprecedented situation. Both sides say that they have the law on their side. Cordray and his chief ally Elizabeth Warren say - look, when the director steps down, the next person in line temporarily takes over. And last night, Leandra English - she filed a lawsuit in federal district court. She made that very claim. So basically, she's trying to block Mulvaney from going to the office today.

Now, the White House says no, no, no - this is an ordinary temporary vacancy. The president fills temporary vacancies. And over the weekend, the White House released a memo from the CFPB's chief legal counsel that seems to support its argument that Mulvaney belongs in the job.

GREENE: Am I wrong that it's - like, I mean, it's a little crazy that the law is not clear here and that you can have these two sides both saying the law supports them and they're the ones who should be choosing who's in charge of a federal agency?

BERLINER: It's really weird. But, you know, keep in mind this is a fairly new agency, so we don't have a lot of history here with the CFPB.

GREENE: Well, I mean, it's a bizarre moment. But this also speaks to the larger stuff that we should talk about. And this is animosity between Republicans and Democrats over this agency that's been building for some time.

BERLINER: Yeah, there's really a lot of bad blood there. For progressives, the CFPB is one of the signature achievements of the Obama era. I mentioned Elizabeth Warren. She was the chief architect of this bureau. And it was created, you know - as Rachel pointed out - to prevent fraud and to protect consumers from things like excessive fees and discriminatory lending. And over its history, the CFPB says it has obtained about $12 billion in relief to consumers.

But many Republicans really hate the CFPB, and I can't emphasize that enough. They say this is an example of what happens when federal power runs amok. The bureau was, in fact, built to be both strong and independent. And it's not accountable to Congress. It's not accountable to the White House. And it's designed to have a single strong director. And Republicans say that Richard Cordray has abused his power in his role as director.

MARTIN: But now the White House - Uri, the White House wants Mick Mulvaney to do this job. Doesn't Mick Mulvaney have a job? He's the director of the OMB.

BERLINER: Guy has a...

GREENE: And not an insignificant job (laughter).

BERLINER: Guy has a big job. Right? We've got this tax proposal coming along. We've got the debt limit coming up.

MARTIN: So the speculation is they want Mulvaney in there to just kind of close house on the agency.

BERLINER: Basically to be a caretaker - I mean, there hasn't been a lot of love from Republicans for this bureau. And President Trump has tweeted about it over the weekend - said it's done a terrible job.

GREENE: I love the idea of just seeing who actually gets to that office first this morning (laughter).

MARTIN: The race is on.

GREENE: That's going to be the big question, yeah.

MARTIN: Whose key fob is going to work?


BERLINER: Exactly.

GREENE: Maybe both. NPR's Uri Berliner.

Thanks, Uri.



GREENE: Rachel, you can't see my computer screen right now - I'm hoping at least.

MARTIN: You're in Culver City. I'm in D.C. No...

GREENE: Yeah. I'm...

MARTIN: ...I can't see it. You're safe. I guess? What are you doing?

GREENE: OK, good. Maybe shopping in between, you know, little conversation here.

MARTIN: Shopping.

GREENE: I need new jeans.

MARTIN: This is - you do need new jeans actually.

GREENE: Thanks.

MARTIN: I've been meaning to tell you.

GREENE: Thanks.

MARTIN: And you're going to get big discounts today. This is the time for a little news you can use, NPR listeners.

It is Cyber Monday, in case you didn't know. Americans are going to spend billions of dollars today. It is slated to be a record-setting shopping spree.

GREENE: And...

MARTIN: I feel like we say that every year, but this time we mean it.

GREENE: This time it's going to be really big.

MARTIN: Right.

GREENE: And NPR business reporter Alina Selyukh is going to tell us why.

Hey, Alina.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hi. We really are saying that every year.


GREENE: We are. So does something actually...

SELYUKH: We actually are.

GREENE: I mean, I thought Black Friday was the big thing. Now we have Cyber Monday, which is like - what? - the online version of Black Friday?

MARTIN: Where have you been?

SELYUKH: Exactly.

MARTIN: You don't know about Cyber Monday?

GREENE: I know about Cyber Monday. But why is this a bigger thing this year than it was - bigger than last year? Like, what's special this year?

SELYUKH: Because we are setting a new record. Every year, we've been setting a new record ever since Cyber Monday has been created. And it is a marketing creation essentially. And this year, we're expected to spend more than $6 billion...

MARTIN: Crazy.

SELYUKH: ...At least that's the number being forecast by Adobe. It's slated to be the most money spent online on a single day in the history of Internet shopping here in the U.S.

GREENE: Here in the U.S.


GREENE: Is this is a worldwide thing as well? Has Cyber Monday caught on everywhere?

SELYUKH: Well - so there are other versions of various cyber holidays for shopping. But the claim to fame and the biggest record belongs to - guess who.


SELYUKH: The Chinese.

GREENE: China.

SELYUKH: Yes. The retail giant there called Alibaba actually routinely outdoes Amazon. And just earlier this year, they had this holiday called Singles Day, which is every year. And it's sort of an anti-Valentine's Day, and it's their much bigger version of Black Friday. And on that day, the shoppers there spend $1 billion in under 2 minutes for a total of...

GREENE: That's a lot.

SELYUKH: Total of 25 billion.


SELYUKH: Yes. So we're not there yet. But...

GREENE: But the U.S. is trying to keep pace.


GREENE: So it's - when there is this much shopping online, I mean, the whole narrative is usually that brick-and-mortar stores are really going to struggle. Is that the case?

SELYUKH: So it just depends on how we shop. So it's just sort of dividing how we shop. And for now, many retail stores are still making most of their money from folks who come by and browse in person. And for that kind of activity, Black Friday is still one of the most popular days. So it is one of the most popular days for folks to visit stores - even though it's definitely not the scene from, like, 10 years ago when people were, you know, elbowing each other in hordes and buying TVs.

That being said, online shopping is obviously not going anywhere. Many traditional stores are still struggling to compete there. Toys R Us is a good example. I bring up toys because I want to leave you with this.


SELYUKH: According to Adobe, today is the day to buy toys. If they're still in stock, today's the biggest discount - news you can use.

GREENE: I love that.

MARTIN: News you can use.

SELYUKH: (Laughter).

GREENE: All right, let's all go toy shopping. The key is if you are going to do online shopping today and you're at work, don't get caught by the boss.

MARTIN: Right.

GREENE: NPR's Alina Selyukh, thanks.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOCKLINE'S "VAST BLEAKNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.