Kathleen Kraninger Kathleen Kraninger, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, testifies before a Senate Banking Committee hearing on her confirmation on Capitol Hill in Washington,  July 19. (Photo from The Associated Press)

 

Kathy Kraninger, the White House budget official nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, spent her confirmation hearing Thursday dodging questions about her role in the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies and disaster relief for Puerto Rico, delivering evasive answers that one Democratic senator described as “maddening.”

In a nearly three-hour hearing, Kraninger rankled Senate Democrats as they probed her involvement in the separation of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border. At one point, Kraninger stated she had “no role in setting the zero-tolerance policies.” But when senators inquired about advice she gave as the administration carried out those policies, she repeatedly cited the deliberative process privilege as preventing her from discussing her work.

“I am trying to get an answer from you, and I just can’t,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “And it’s maddening.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the architect of the CFPB, said Kraninger’s answers in the hearing were “lawyerly and limited.”

“You’re dodging,” Warren said.

A little-known budget official before her nomination, Kraninger came billed as an experienced manager with a record of overseeing large government agencies. Her experience with the budgeting process was held in particularly high regard by Republicans, who’ve long accused the CFPB of mismanagement and overspending.

Senate Democrats had called for delaying Thursday’s hearing on the grounds that the White House had not responded to requests for information about Kraninger’s tenure at the Office of Management and Budget. Defending the decision to proceed with the hearing, Sen. Mike Crapo, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said the requests were “designed to go after certain extraneous administration policies that the requestors do not like” and called for documents subject to the administration’s “ongoing deliberative process.”

Here are some other highlights from Thursday’s hearing:

Questioned Qualifications

Crapo, an Idaho Republican, praised Kraninger for her experience with a “diverse set of federal agencies” and her expertise with budget processes. “Given her depth and diversity of public service and experience, I have the utmost confidence that she is well prepared to lead the bureau in enforcing federal consumer finance laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace,” he said.

Senate Democrats, however, questioned whether she was qualified to lead the CFPB, pointing to her lack of experience with financial regulation and consumer protection issues. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the banking committee’s top Democrat, tied Kraninger to her boss at the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director. Mulvaney was appointed as the CFPB’s interim leader last year following the resignation of former Director Richard Cordray.

At the CFPB, Brown said, Mulvaney has dropped investigations and “reduced meaningful settlements to slaps on the wrist.”

“Now,” Brown added, “he wants his protege to lead the agency. Unfortunately, Ms. Kraninger has no experience whatsoever in consumer protection.”

‘Very Open’ to Changes

On June 18, the same day Trump nominated Kraninger to lead the CFPB, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the bureau’s independent, single-director design was unconstitutional. The ruling from Judge Loretta Preska, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, came in a CFPB lawsuit against RD Legal Funding, a company accused of scamming 9/11 first responders.

Asked by Brown whether she would appeal Preska’s ruling, if confirmed, Kraninger did not commit to defending the CFPB’s constitutionality. Earlier this year, a Washington federal appeals court upheld the CFPB’s structure, overturning a 2016 decision by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated this month to replace retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit are weighing similar challenges to the CFPB’s structure.

“[A]re you going to take the side of the 9/11 scammers or are you going to take the side of those who were scammed as you decide what to do in this court case?” Brown asked.

“I’m aware of the constitutionality question, senator. I think they’re important, but they’re not for me, in this position, to answer. The director has a responsibility to carry out the law as it is written and run the agency as it is established now, and that is my focus,” Kraninger said.

But Kraninger signaled an openness to reforming the structure of the CFPB, which Republicans have proposed converting into a five-member commission akin to the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. A more recent legislative proposal has called for maintaining the single-director design but making the CFPB’s leader readily removable by the president.

Responding to Sen. Thom Tillis, who described the CFPB as the “first agency of its kind that’s not accountable, arguably, to anybody,” Kraninger said the Dodd-Frank financial reforms gave the bureau “incredible powers and incredible independence from both the president and the Congress in its structure.”

“My focus is on running the agency as Congress established it,” she said. “But certainly, working with members of Congress, I’m very open to changes in that structure that will make the agency more accountable and more transparent.”