Congressional Republicans have frequently attacked Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) she’s setting up, which officially launches on July 21. The House GOP escalated its anti-Warren, anti-CFPB campaign at a hearing of the House Oversight Committee today, chaired by Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC).
McHenry was once known as Tom DeLay’s “attack-dog-in-training,” a title he more than earned today. Before the hearing had even begun, McHenry went on CNBC and brazenly accused Warren of lying to Congress. He claimed that Warren had misrepresented her role in advising state attorneys general who are seeking a multibillion-dollar settlement with the country’s largest mortgage service providers, who stand accused of massive and widespread foreclosure fraud. As evidence, McHenry pointed to a leaked internal document prepared by the CFPB that laid out different settlement options for the state AGs. McHenry claimed this went beyond the scope of the “advice,” that Warren had already admitted to providing, at the behest of the Treasury Department, in earlier testimony to Congress in March. “We’ve given advice when asked for advice,” she reiterated this afternoon.
The subcommittee hearing devolved into a linguistic discussion of the true meaning of the word “advise,” as the Merriam-Webster definition (“to give [someone] a recommendation about what should be done”) flashed on large TV screens in the hearing room. But given that Warren had already copped to giving such advice, it was difficult to find any meaningful contradiction in her remarks. Nor has she or the CFPB played a leading role in the settlement talks. “It’s simply not accurate to say the CFPB has masterminded this,” Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who’s leading settlement talks for the AGs, told me recently.
Despite his thin paper trail, McHenry was intent on making Warren look bad. The Western North Carolina Congressman frequently interrupted her answers and accused the CFPB of possessing “virtually unchecked” power. Near the end of the hearing, Representative John Yarmouth (D-KY) apologized to Warren for the “rude and disrespectful behavior of the chair.” Incidentally, McHenry has accepted generous campaign donations this year from big banks and industry trade associations opposed to bureau, including $1,000-plus checks from the American Bankers Association, Mortgage Bankers Association, American Express, American Financial Services Organization, Cash America International, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
Ed Mierzwinski, the consumer program director at US PIRG, said the hearing was just another attempt by the GOP “to try to weaken Warren’s credibility.” He invoked an old saying from law school: “If the law is on your side, argue the law. If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If you don’t have either, just argue.”
The hearing was titled “Who’s Watching the Watchmen? Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” but Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) argued that it should be dubbed “Let’s Pretend the Financial Crisis Never Happened.” Indeed, Congressional Republicans spent no time on the lax oversight and corporate deception that led to the financial crisis—and how a consumer agency dedicated to policing the murky financial services sector might have prevented or mitigated a prolonged recession. “Too often consumer protection was the second thought, third thought, or not even thought of at all,” Maloney said. That’s why Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration created the CFPB as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act.
“I’m begging you to keep the fire,” Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) told Warren. “I’ve had constituents who’ve lost so much they don’t even know why…. We need your passion and concern. Thank you for syncing your conduct and conscience.”
At the end of the testy hearing, McHenry told Warren: “I admire your service to our government. I do.” He and the House GOP certainly have a funny way of showing it.