Finance

Senate confirms Chopra to lead Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Greg Nash

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Rohit Chopra as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), approving a fierce critic of the financial sector to lead a powerful agency overseeing it.

Senators voted 50-48 along party lines to confirm Chopra, with all 50 Democratic senators and no Republicans supporting his nomination.

GOP Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) did not vote.

Vice President Harris broke a 50-50 tie to advance Chopra’s nomination earlier Thursday.

The CFPB has sweeping authority to regulate and supervise the ways banks, lenders, debt collectors and insurance companies treat their customers. The bureau can unilaterally penalize those who violate consumer protection and fair lending laws, and all at the whim of the CFPB director, who has the final say over all agency regulations and enforcement actions.

Chopra, a Federal Trade Commissioner since 2018,  has vowed to drastically increase the consequences financial firms face for harming their customers and tighten regulations loosened under the leadership of Trump-appointed leaders. His mission to turn the CFPB back into the crusading watchdog envisioned by the agency’s architect, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), won over Democrats while costing him the support of every Republican senator.

“Americans need someone willing to stand up to the biggest banks, to stand up the most powerful corporations, and fight for them. Rohit Chopra has the expertise and the track record to do that, and he will be America’s voice in America’s advocate,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

“He has a deep understanding of financial markets, a strong record of protecting consumers and workers and small businesses, promoting competitive markets, and holding bad actors accountable.”

Republicans, who’ve opposed the CFPB from existence and have called for its powers to be drastically curtailed, cited Chopra’s record as a cause for severe concern. GOP senators also insisted that Chopra should be disqualified from leading the CFPB after refusing to respond to questions about the acting director’s dismissal of some bureau staff.

“It’s clear to me that Commissioner Chopra would very likely return the CFPB to the rogue, unaccountable, anti-business agency it was during the Obama administration,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the top Republican on the Senate Banking panel, in a speech before the vote.

Chopra joined the CFPB in 2012 as the agency’s first student loan ombudsman and regularly condemned student loan collection companies for misleading and bilking borrowers. The CFPB has since sued several student loan servicers, some of which later announced plans to transfer their portfolios to other loan collectors.

He subsequently joined the Education Department as a senior advisor in 2016 and then the Consumer Federation of America before former President Trump nominated him to the FTC in 2017. 

Chopra made waves at the FTC in 2019 when he criticized both the size of a $5 billion fine imposed by the commission on Facebook and the terms of punishment as far too weak for the company’s misconduct. His searing dissent elevated his profile as a critic of big tech and as a potential figure in a Democratic presidential administration, but also drew fire from his fellow FTC commissioners.

“Rohit Chopra is the consumer watchdog our country needs. He is up to the challenge of protecting people’s wallets from predatory practices, ranging from lending discrimination to COVID relief scams to abusive debt collection practices,” said Graciela Aponte-Diaz, acting federal advocacy director for the Center For Responsible Lending, a pro-regulation non-profit.

Chopra said during his March confirmation hearing that his primary focus will be ensuring millions of Americans who have relied on foreclosure or eviction protections during the pandemic are able to regain housing security. The CFPB is also expected to revisit debt collection and payday lending regulations loosened under Trump-appointed officials.

Tags Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren John Cornyn Pat Toomey Rand Paul Rohit Chopra Sherrod Brown

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