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, Thursday, July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Trump's pick to run consumer watchdog faces skeptical Senate

July 19, 2018 - 12:20 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kathy Kraninger, President Donald Trump's nominee to take over the nation's watchdog for banks, credit card companies and payday lenders, made her public debut in front of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, where she faced extremely hostile questioning from Democrats.

Democratic senators called into question her qualifications to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as her role in the Trump administration's immigration policy in her current job with the Office of Management and Budget. But with a 51-seat Republican majority, Kraninger's nomination to run the CFPB is likely to be confirmed.

Trump nominated Kraninger on June 18 to replace Mick Mulvaney, the administration's budget director, who has been acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau since late November. Mulvaney has taken the bureau in a more business-friendly direction than his predecessor Richard Cordray, President Barack Obama's director of the CFPB.

Before her nomination, Kraninger, 43, was a relatively unknown mid-level bureaucrat working inside the OMB, overseeing roughly $250 billion in federal government programs. Before that she was a Congressional staffer working on budget and appropriations bills.

Kraninger's nomination has been somewhat controversial, since she has no experience in banking or financial services.

"Now (Mick Mulvaney) wants his protege to run the agency. She has no experience whatsoever in consumer protection," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is the top Democrat on the committee.

The White House and Republicans argue that Kraninger's experience at the OMB, where she arranged programs for large government departments like Homeland Security and the Federal Reserve, makes her qualified as a manager for a large government bureau.

"Given her depth and diversity of public service experience, I have the utmost confidence that she is well-prepared to lead the Bureau in enforcing federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace," said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, at the start of the hearing.

Thursday's hearing was Kraninger's first public appearance since her nomination. Her positions on various issues facing the CFPB — from the bureau's regulations on payday loans to how aggressive she would be going after big banks for wrongdoing — were largely unknown coming in, and she didn't provide much clarity in her answers to committee members.

Kraninger worked directly under Mulvaney at OMB, and is unlikely to take the CFPB in a sharply different direction.

Kraninger's prepared remarks called for the CFPB to be "fair and transparent" and to "empower consumers to make good choices and provide certainty for market participants," and echo statements by Mulvaney, who believes the bureau's power is too unrestrained.

One of Kraninger's biggest critics has been Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who has vocally opposed her nomination from the start. The CFPB is Warren's brainchild — she proposed such a bureau when she was a professor at Harvard University.

Warren focused most of her questioning on Kraninger's role in setting and implementing the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents who crossed the border illegally.

In her current role at the White House, Kraninger oversaw budget requests from the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies. The DHS is responsible for implementing the administration's immigration policies.

In response to a question from Warren, who asked for Kraninger's opinion on the Trump child separation policy, she said "It is not appropriate to give my opinion."

An exasperated Warren took her non-answer as a signal that she was involved in some way.

"You were part of it. It is moral stain that will follow you for the rest of your life."

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Ken Sweet covers the banking industry and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @kensweet.

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