Lawmaker, Consumer chief spar over 'political ambitions'
By JULIE CARR SMYTH
Aug. 30, 2017
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A fierce Republican critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is pressing the agency's Democratic chief to announce his intentions in next year's race for Ohio governor.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, wrote to Richard Cordray on Monday urging him to reveal by Wednesday whether he planned to resign as head of the agency. Hensarling also sought Cordray's "categorical denial" that political considerations are influencing his federal work.
Cordray responded in writing Wednesday, saying he hasn't been influenced by politics and telling Hensarling that he has "no further insights to provide" on the timetable for his departure. Cordray noted Hensarling has posed the same question to him three times.
Hensarling's latest request followed speculation that Cordray, 58, could announce a gubernatorial bid over Labor Day weekend. He is scheduled to headline an Ohio AFL-CIO picnic in Cincinnati on Monday.
Many Republicans strongly oppose the independent agency established by Dodd-Frank, the landmark banking law created after the 2008 economic crisis that was designed to prevent future meltdowns. The agency has the power to scrutinize the practices of virtually any business selling financial products and services, such as credit card companies, payday lenders, mortgage servicers and debt collectors.
The GOP, with Hensarling taking the lead, complains that the agency's rules and actions stifle economic growth. A prime target is Cordray, a holdover from President Barack Obama's administration.
Some Republicans have urged President Donald Trump to fire Cordray, but others have wavered on the strategy. Firing him could give Democrats a shot at winning Ohio's governorship and make the race a referendum on Trump.
Already, eight candidates — four Republicans and four Democrats — have jumped into the contest to succeed Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is term-limited.
Hensarling has seized on media reports that Cordray is positioning for a gubernatorial run and called into question his motivations as consumer chief, a position that has allowed a Democrat some continuing policy influence in Republican-controlled Washington.
"These reports, which have not been rebutted by the bureau, suggest that your personal political ambitions may be informing decisions you are making regarding what is supposed to be a nonpartisan and objective agency rulemaking process governed by the Administrative Procedure Act," Hensarling wrote.
Of particular concern to Hensarling are reports that Cordray has been expediting the bureau's work on new payday lending rules, including reportedly getting personally involved in rulemaking and setting up a "war room" for the final push not far from his office.
"Simply put, there is no valid legal basis for accelerating a federal rulemaking to satisfy an arbitrary deadline necessitated by election dates established under Ohio law," Hensarling wrote.
Hensarling and the conservative advocacy group America Rising Squared have both sought reviews of whether Cordray has violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from politicking while on duty. The allegations have not resulted in any findings.
Cordray served as Ohio's treasurer from 2007-2009 and as its attorney general from 2009-2011. He lost a re-election campaign to the state's current attorney general, former Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, by less than 2 percentage points in a year when most other statewide Democratic candidates did much worse. Obama appointed him to lead the consumer agency in 2011.
Hensarling expressed disappointment with Cordray's reply to his query, calling it a refusal to be transparent.
"If he intends to serve his full term, there is no reason not to say so," he said. "The only reasonable conclusion is that he therefore harbors partisan political ambitions, which calls into question the propriety of all of his recent and future actions as CFPB Director."
Cordray will be joined Monday in Cincinnati by Democratic state Rep. Alicia Reece, a civil rights advocate and former vice mayor whom some view as a possible running mate.