WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump is naming White House budget director Mick Mulvaney to be the temporary head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, setting up a high-stakes legal clash over the regulator’s leadership.
Mulvaney’s appointment came just hours after outgoing CFPB Director Richard Cordray announced he was tapping a deputy to run the agency on an acting basis, a move that was widely seen as an attempt to prevent the White House from defanging the watchdog.
With two officials appointed to the same post, it is unclear who will take the reins at the controversial consumer regulator. Republicans are eager to start remaking the CFPB, which they blame for burdening banks with unnecessary rules, but Cordray and other Democrats are desperate to keep it out of the administration’s grip as long as they can.
Cordray, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, officially stepped down on Friday. As he walked out the door, Cordray announced that his current chief of staff, Leandra English, would become deputy director and automatically rise to serve as acting director when he left.
But there is an ongoing legal debate over how much power Cordray has to name his replacement. The White House indicated Friday that Trump believes he has the authority to name an interim leader.
“The President looks forward to seeing Director Mulvaney take a common sense approach to leading the CFPB’s dedicated staff, an approach that will empower consumers to make their own financial decisions and facilitate investment in our communities,” the White House said in a statement. “Director Mulvaney will serve as Acting Director until a permanent director is nominated and confirmed.”
As director, Mulvaney is expected to bring sweeping changes to an agency that he has called “the very worst kind of government entity.” The White House did not say on Friday whether Mulvaney planned to name someone to run the day-to-day operations of the CFPB so he could continue his duties as budget director.
Some lawyers argue that the CFPB’s deputy director takes over when the director leaves. Cordray cited a Dodd-Frank Act provision in defense of naming English on Friday. But there are other lawyers who say that laws governing federal vacancies should take precedent, which would allow Trump to install Mulvaney an interim basis.
Cordray first announced he planned to resign on Nov. 15 amid speculation that he would run for governor in Ohio as a Democrat.
The CFPB was established in the wake of the financial crisis to police credit cards, car loans and other consumer finance products. Since its inception, the CFPB has been at the center of bitter partisan bickering. Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have praised the agency for returning billions of dollars to harmed consumers. Republicans call it a “rogue” agency with a leader who wields too much power that goes unchecked.