CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — President Joe Biden's nominee to run the federal consumer watchdog agency faced some hostile questioning from Republican Senators on Tuesday, but appeared to be likely to be confirmed with Democrats controlling a majority in the Senate.
Rohit Chopra, currently a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, would be the third permanent director of the decade-old agency. President Donald Trump's director of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Kathy Kraninger, was asked to resign by President Biden on the first day of his term.
Chopra said he planned to “work with (senators) to build a new bipartisan consensus” for the bureau.
“I pledge to be a good partner to each of you and approach the agency’s mission with an open mind and attuned to market realities,” he said in prepared remarks.
Chopra would inherit an agency that’s a shell of its former self in the aftermath of the Trump administration. The CFPB drastically scaled back its enforcement actions, both in number and size, and it relegated concerns like fair lending to a much smaller position inside the bureau.
He said, if confirmed, he would likely return the bureau to aggressively fine and penalize companies for bad behaviors.
“Economically it does not make sense that you rip someone off and don’t have to pay a penalty for it,” Chopra told senators. “Restitution is a critical part of the CFPB’s work.”
He also said he planned to return fair lending to a prominent position inside the bureau.
“It should play a critical role at the bureau,” he said.
The CFPB was created following the housing bubble and financial crisis of the late 2000s, which directly led to the Great Recession. Part of the law that overhauled the entire financial industry, the CFPB was given the mission to be an aggressive regulator and a watchdog for the American consumers.
Chopra is a veteran of the CFPB, working there in its early days as the bureau’s top official on student loan issues. He is considered a staunch ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who proposed the idea for the bureau long before the Great Recession. He is also well liked by the consumer advocacy groups who often oppose banks in regulatory matters.
He left the bureau in in the final days of the Obama administration to work for an outside consumer advocacy group. In 2018, President Donald Trump nominated Chopra to the FTC to fill the Democratic seat on the regulator.
Chopra has used his public position to advocate for the FTC to be more aggressive with its antitrust and consumer protection powers. He's been a vocal critic of when government agencies reach settlements with companies for bad actions but do not fine or penalize the company for the behavior.
With a Democratic majority in the Senate and no 60-vote threshold for nominations, Chopra faces an easier path to confirmation. Democrats tend to be strongly supportive of the CFPB and its structure, one of the highlights of the Obama years.
Republican have never cared for the CFPB from the onset, arguing that the bureau's structure grants too much power to one person, its director. The CFPB is also not subject to the annual Congressional budget process, instead receiving all its funds from the Federal Reserve.
GOP senators did press Chopra on a few key issues, such as whether the bureau would revisit some of the regulations passed under Director Kraninger. It's unclear how many GOP senators will support Chopra's nomination. If confirmed, he will serve a five-year term.