Dems accuse GOP of playing race card in contentious hearing

Anne Wernikoff

House Democrats accused Republicans of using race discrimination allegations to weaken a government agency during a contentious House Financial Services subcommittee hearing Thursday.

The panel's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Sean DuffySean DuffyDistrict Court right to target CFPB Tech groups file court brief opposing internet transition suit Yellen defends Fed from Trump attacks MORE (R-Wis.), has had four hearings looking into reports of racism, sexism and ageism at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Duffy said the CFPB has a higher rate of discrimination cases than other agencies, and said the agency's leadership "continues to turn a blind eye" to the issue.
"The CFPB is more concerned with bad press than the underlying problem and has done little more than run an ineffective internal PR campaign to assuage employee concerns," Duffy said.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said Republicans were only concerned about using the allegations to weaken the agency, which Republicans have opposed since it was created as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law.
"Do you think that the majority of the members on the opposite side of the aisle are more concerned about discrimination than this side of the aisle?" she asked. "Just take a look."
Waters's comment drew audible murmurs from Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and Mia Love (R-Utah), who is the first black Republican woman elected in Congress.
"Oh my gosh," Love said. "Wow."
"Yeah, you can, 'Wow' all you want," said Waters. "Discrimination issues — at least on this side of the aisle — are taken seriously. ... [But] this is a political fight inside the committee."
She urged those who have experienced discrimination at the CFPB to go through the proper channels "at every level" to report the discriminatory allegations.
Mulvaney tried to cut off Waters.
"I won't yield," Waters said. "Do not interfere with me."
"Will the gentle lady extend any courtesy ..." Mulvaney asked.
"I will not extend any courtesy to you," Waters said.
Rep. Al GreenAl GreenObama promises not to twerk at WH concert Dem lawmakers rally Muslims against Trump Black caucus issues call to action MORE (D-Texas), a former president of the Houston NAACP, argued that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) should hold hearings investigating banks discriminating against minorities. 
"I'm an all-the-time freedom fighter," Green said. "But what we're doing is being a part-time freedom fighters."
Green argued the panel should investigate banks, which he said "are ripping minority people off." 
Hensarling vehemently pushed back, arguing the Department of Justice already has laws on the books that give it jurisdiction to investigate such illegal practices. He argued it is lawmakers jobs to hold regulators accountable — especially when discrimination allegations emerge. 
Hensarling called Waters's comments "outrageous."
"I know she has very good vision," Hensarling said. "But I did not know she could look into the hearts of her colleagues" to figure out their motives for taking on these issues.
Love wondered how "an agency that is unable to govern itself be entrusted to protect consumers or — frankly — make sound decisions about how it pursues its mission."
Florine Williams, the CFPB's senior equal employment specialist, testified that, after two years, there remains "no appreciable progress" made at the agency to address the issue. 
"Never until my employment at the CFPB have I witnessed such blatant and willful disregard for the law, merit system principles, and the well-being of its employees," said Williams, who has more than 20 years of experience working on Equal Employment Opportunity issues.
Wagner also pushed back against Waters's comments.
"You have not been used. You are not pawns," she said to CFPB officials testifying about the allegations. "We are not indifferent to the ... plight that you all been suffering — I hate discrimination."
Waters then let out an audible laugh during Wagner's comments.
Wagner glanced at Waters before adding: "No one should question — or laugh at — my motivation."