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Head Of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Faces Lawmakers This Week

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Republican lawmakers want to fire Richard Cordray. He's the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the financial industry doesn't like having this watchdog agency looking over its shoulder. And now some Republicans and the Trump administration are making moves to try to weaken or restructure it. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: The Bureau was created after millions of Americans lost their jobs and houses and life savings in the financial crisis. And it has broad powers to go after financial firms that hurt consumers. It can impose penalties and create new regulations, and it's been doing that. But Republicans in Congress say the Bureau and its director, Richard Cordray, have too much power.

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JEB HENSARLING: They act as legislature, prosecutor, judge and jury all rolled into one.

ARNOLD: That's Republican Jeb Hensarling, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, where today Cordray was giving a regular report to Congress. Hensarling's threatened legislation to limit the Bureau's authority.

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HENSARLING: The CFBC has acted unlawfully. Richard Cordray should be dismissed by the president.

ARNOLD: Republicans say the Bureau, with its single-director structure, is unconstitutional and therefore unlawful. There's also an industry lawsuit against the CFPB that the Trump administration is supporting. In the extremely partisan hearing, Sean Duffy, a Republican from Wisconsin, lobbed a series of assertions at Cordray, including allegations of mistreatment of minority workers at the CFPB without giving Cordray much chance to respond.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN DUFFY: You have a rotting agency. The Bureau and how they treat women and African-American women - I'm going to move on. Do you know how...

RICHARD CORDRAY: You...

DUFFY: Do you believe that 25 million people...

CORDRAY: Could I - do I get a chance to...

DUFFY: Do you believe that 25 million people...

UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN: Time, gentlemen...

DUFFY: Could I just - could I respond for 30 seconds?

ARNOLD: But the top Democrat on the committee, Maxine Waters, who is an African-American woman, struck a very different tone.

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MAXINE WATERS: I am delighted that you are here. I am so honored that you have done the work that you have done despite unyielding Republican efforts to impede your work.

ARNOLD: Waters highlighted that the Consumer Bureau, through its enforcement actions, is returning a growing pile of money to Americans who had found were wronged by financial firms.

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WATERS: Nearly $12 billion for 29 million consumers. There are constituents in every state who have been ripped off by financial institutions. Why aren't Republicans fighting for them? I reject these misguided attacks on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Director Cordray, I will be with you forever.

ARNOLD: Americans around the country, it turns out, have a pretty favorable view of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well. One poll recently found that Trump voters want the Bureau left alone or strengthened by a 2 to 1 margin. Today, Richard Cordray said, basically, Republican proposals to weaken the Bureau's independence would be a mistake.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORDRAY: Congress did a good thing in 2010, and it's very important to have an independent watchdog looking out for consumers where it's typically not a fair fight when they're in a struggle with a large financial company.

ARNOLD: Richard Cordray's term ends in July of 2018. So Republicans may decide that the most prudent path politically will be to just sit tight. And the president next year will be able to appoint a director that Republicans will find more to their liking. Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.