When Consumer Financial Protection Bureau architect Elizabeth Warren testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday, Republicans will get one last chance to air public critiques of the CFPB before the new agency begins its work.
Her appearance will mark the latest round of what has been an ongoing, and sometimes dramatic, dispute over the future of the bureau, created nearly one year ago by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The GOP has made a strong attempt to paint the new bureau as far too powerful and lacking in any sufficient oversight. And Republicans will continue to press Warren Thursday.
“This hearing will give Professor Warren an opportunity to provide clear information – which has so far not been articulated in public statements, budget justification, FOIA responses, or previous congressional testimony – about how the administration intends to go about protecting consumers,” said an Oversight spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the CFPB’s strong (and vocal) backers tout it – and Warren – as a much needed and long overdue government advocate for consumers in the financial system.
The relationship between Warren and the GOP has always been icy at best, given Republicans long-standing opposition to the CFPB, and people that will be watching the hearing closely are expecting more of the same.
“What we're likely to see is more demonstrations of a Republican Party that’s determined to become a kind of goon squad for Wall Street,” said Richard Eskow, a senior fellow for the left-leaning Campaign for America’s Future, which has repeatedly backed Warren.
For her part, Warren is looking forward to the hearing, according to the CFPB’s spokesperson.
The CFPB said Warren recognizes the value of the checks and balances such hearings can provide, and emphasizes that she has held over 100 one-on-one conversations with members of Congress.
But the last time she appeared before part of the House Oversight Committee, it ended with a squabble over how long she had agreed to testify.
The exchange pitted Warren against Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who chaired the subcommittee handling the hearing and has been a leading critic of the agency.
As the hearing recessed for votes, Warren got up to leave, saying she understood she was free to go after an hour of testimony.
McHenry insisted no such arrangement had been made, setting off a back-and-forth exchange.
"I'm not trying to cause you problems, Miss Warren," he said.
"Congressman, you are causing problems," she responded. "We had an agreement. ... I committed to you based on representations of your staff."
"You had no agreement," said McHenry.
"We had an agreement," she said.
"You're making this up, Miss Warren," said McHenry.
Warren ultimately agreed to answer remaining questions in writing and left.
But the fight didn’t end there. Warren supporters flooded McHenry’s Facebook page with nasty comments, as the two sides pointed to email exchanges between staff that they claimed supported their understanding of the timing deal.
Warren’s public schedule, released earlier this month, revealed that internal department meetings, as well as a scheduled interview with Vanity Fair, were slated to occur after her time testifying.
This time he made clear he did not want any scheduling disputes to emerge.
"I expect you to remain before the committee until all members of the committee have had all of their questions answered and thus ask that you clear your schedule for the full day of the hearing," he wrote.
Warren’s calendar, jam-packed these days with meetings, phone calls, and interviews, has in fact been cleared for the day.
In perhaps a taste of what is to come, Raj Date, the CFPB’s associate director of research, markets and regulations – and a potential candidate for the agency’s director – got his share of GOP grilling at a House Financial Services Committee hearing last week. Date faced several questions from Republicans, yet again, about the CFPB’s role in ongoing settlement negotiations between federal and state investigators and mortgage servicers over widespread documentation problems.
Republicans have repeatedly accused the CFPB, and Warren in particular, of overstepping their authority and sticking their nose into the settlement talks. CFPB officials have repeatedly maintained that they simply are serving an advisory role, and are glad to do so.
In his Thursday appearance, Date was pressed on the exact role the CFPB has played in the talks, and Date again reiterated the CFPB stance.
However, one of the most persistent questioners on the panel was none other than McHenry, who said Warren wanted to “step well outside of her position as an adviser.” He will also be in attendance at Warren’s Thursday appearance at the Oversight Committee.