WASHINGTON (AP) — Mick Mulvaney faced criticism Wednesday from House Democrats of his actions as acting head of the nation's consumer financial watchdog, while Republicans praised him as a responsible steward of a bureau they've long considered too independent and powerful.
Mulvaney is making his first appearance before Congress since President Trump named him the acting director of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in late November.
Since Mulvaney took over, the bureau has not issued an enforcement action against any financial company and has dropped cases against payday lenders. He also has announced he would revise or revisit many of the rules or regulations that his predecessor, Obama-appointee Richard Cordray, put into place under his tenure.
Such actions have Democrats concerned that the watchdog agency is taking a business-friendly approach at the expense of consumers. Mulvaney tried to assure them Wednesday that the bureau continues to do its job, with numerous investigations of financial companies in the works.
Republicans praised Mulvaney's performance at the bureau so far. Mulvaney is the first Republican to lead the CFPB since it was created under the Obama administration.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said that while he still feels the CFPB is an unaccountable, unconstitutional agency, Mulvaney's actions since taking over have been a "welcome change." Hensarling, R-Texas, is a longtime critic of the CFPB, and has sponsored several bills that would either abolish or severely restrict the bureau's capabilities.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats refused to acknowledge that Mulvaney is the acting director of the bureau, referring to an ongoing court case in which the deputy director of the bureau, Leandra English, is suing Mulvaney, claiming that she is the true acting director.
"I want to be very clear that Democrats' participation in this hearing is not in any way an acknowledgment of Mr. Mulvaney's legitimacy at the consumer bureau," Rep. Maxine Waters, the top ranking Democrat on the committee, said in her prepared remarks.
Mulvaney said the bureau's work of protecting consumers is continuing. He told the committee that the bureau still has 100 investigations ongoing and 25 court cases still pending against financial services companies, all cases or investigations that he would have the authority to dismiss unilaterally as acting director.
"We are still enforcing the law," Mulvaney said.
The dynamic change in the roles of the questioners at the hearing represents a reversal from when the CFPB was led by Cordray. Democrats often saluted Cordray's efforts to win financial relief for consumers while Republicans complained that he overstepped his mandate.
In prepared testimony for the House Financial Services Committee, Mulvaney repeated the longstanding criticism that the CFPB, created following the financial crisis, is too independent and its director too powerful. He outlined steps he said would make the bureau more accountable to Congress and the president.
Trump has not announced a new permanent director for the bureau. Under the law, Mulvaney can remain in his acting role until June 22, at which point he must vacate the office. If Trump nominates someone before that date, however, Mulvaney can remain in his acting role until the Senate confirms Trump's nominee. It is expected that Trump will eventually nominate someone, but Mulvaney will remain in this role until the end of the year.
Mulvaney will testify in front of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, where he will face his most vocal critic in Congress: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts.
Ken Sweet covers banks and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @kensweet.