Trump pick to face grilling over family separations

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The Trump administration’s controversial policy of separating families at the southern border will surprisingly take center stage at a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday for the nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Banking panel Democrats called on Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) Tuesday night to delay Kathleen Kraninger’s confirmation hearing until she answers questions about her role in implementing the controversial “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants seeking asylum, as well as the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

{mosads}Crapo, however, is pressing ahead, setting the stage for fireworks on Thursday as Democrats use the hearing to demand answers from Kraninger on the contentious immigration policy.

The fight is putting Kraninger, who has spent over a decade in government but is not well known publicly, in the spotlight.

President Trump nominated Kraninger to be CFPB director in June, choosing her to serve a five-year stint atop the regulator.

Trump and the White House have pitched Kraninger as a steady and experienced hand to carry out their mission to overhaul the bureau.

As associate director for general government programs in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Kraninger oversees $250 billion in budgetary authority and manages seven executive branch agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, according to the White House.

But Kraninger’s oversight of those two departments has raised questions about her role in planning and imposing the controversial immigration policy.

The administration’s zero tolerance policy prosecutes adult migrants caught crossing the border illegally. The administration also separated thousands of children brought into the country by migrants awaiting prosecution, prompting bipartisan outrage. The president ended the separation policy, but officials have faced new scrutiny over their efforts to reunite families quickly.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has vowed to block Kraninger’s nomination, and Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) both plan to ask questions about Kraninger’s involvement in the administration’s policies, their offices confirmed.

Democrats have asked for details on any role she played in the drafting or implementation of the policies, as well as any relevant communications.

“Ms. Kraninger still hasn’t provided concrete answers about her role in the Administration’s family separation policy,” Brown said in a statement, referring to a letter he sent with Warren in June.

“Anyone involved in overseeing that disaster is not qualified for a promotion — especially not to a job this important to working families. Nothing in her record shows she’s willing to protect working people from getting ripped off by payday lenders and big banks.” 

A Democratic Senate Banking Committee staffer said if Kraninger claims her management experience at OMB qualifies her to lead the consumer agency, it is fair game to press her on her role in the administration’s immigration policy.

The White House, though, has pushed back, accusing Democrats of grasping for reasons to oppose Kraninger’s nomination. 

“The Democrats have no real objections to Ms. Kraninger so they are throwing up fabricated issues,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement to The Hill.

“They have wanted to politicize the Bureau since its creation. Fortunately, the President has sought to nominate and confirm a new director for the Bureau who is focused on the American people, not politics.” 

Democrats have seized on the backlash to Trump’s immigration policies ahead of November’s midterm elections, but the party still faces long odds of sinking Kraninger’s nomination.

Kraninger is widely supported by Senate Republicans, who say she’s an excellent pick to continue acting CFPB chief Mick Mulvaney’s efforts to roll back the bureau’s powers. Mulvaney, who is also the OMB director, has rallied GOP senators behind Kraninger to help clear her path to confirmation.

Some Democratic incumbents facing tough reelections in November could also back Kraninger to boost their independent credentials. Even so, Democrats have been fiercely protective of the CFPB and fought off several legislative attempts to curb the bureau’s power.

Kraninger will need to sell Democrats on her qualifications and prove her independence from Mulvaney to win bipartisan support.

Liberal nonprofits and consumer advocacy groups say Kraninger lacks essential knowledge of issues under the CFPB umbrella. As chief of the agency, Kraninger would have enormous power to regulate financial institutions.

Her supporters note that Kraninger oversees several financial regulators in her role at OMB. But she does not appear to have experience crafting or enforcing consumer protection laws.

Kraninger’s nomination surprised many in Washington who had expected Trump to choose a person with deeper experience in financial regulation.

Her close ties to Mulvaney also raised suspicions among bureau-watchers that Kraninger would merely follow orders from the OMB director.

“Mulvaney very much still wants to have control, and putting her in this role allows him to give someone else the title but remain a strong influence,” said a K Street advocate for financial firms.

“She will serve as the manager and make sure that the trains run on time while still implementing his agenda.”

Mulvaney, a staunch conservative, has infuriated Democrats and the CFPB’s supporters by making the bureau more sympathetic to the needs of banks and lenders. In his nearly eight months leading the CFPB, he’s eased the agency’s oversight of the financial sector and sought rollbacks of major Obama-era regulations. Critics of the agency’s powers and decisions have hailed his tenure.

Republicans and financial industry advocates who’ve met with Kraninger say she’s likely to continue down that path. That could be a deal breaker for centrist Democrats who have fumed over Mulvaney’s efforts to restrain the bureau.

“I fear that there will be more of the same, which is more risk and less protection for consumers,” said Linda Jun, senior policy counsel at Americans for Financial Reform, a nonprofit supporting tougher rules for banks and lenders.

“Consumers aren’t getting relief and that’s a disturbing pattern.”

Tags Bob Menendez Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Mick Mulvaney Mike Crapo Sherrod Brown

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