After watching Mick Mulvaney spar with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in recent days, it’s tempting to make the modest proposal that President Trump nominate Mulvaney for every administration position that has to testify before Sens. Warren, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., or any of the other senators running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Mulvaney has earned Warren’s ire because he is the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was her brainchild. While she hasn’t backed down in their colorful exchanges, Mulvaney has been winning on points.
When the senator lobbed the tired accusation that Mulvaney was forgoing stricter regulations because payday lenders had bought the GOP, (for the record, the payday industry spends about half as much on politics as, say, the abortion lobby) Mulvaney responded wryly: “Prior to receiving your letter, I never would have thought to consider, for instance, whether your vote against repealing the bureau’s arbitration rule was influenced by campaign donations you may have received from trial lawyers or other parties who stood to gain financially from the rule. Perhaps I should reconsider.”
When Warren accused him of “hurting real people to score cheap political points,” Mulvaney reminded the public that Warren’s performance is merely an early stage of her 2020 run, in which she needs to best the hammy theatrics of Booker, Harris, and all other contenders.
Mulvaney is a rare public official with the wit to match Warren in both policy and dramatic flourishes, which is why it would be entertaining to have him stand toe-to-toe with every Senate committee featuring a Democratic presidential wannabe. If he can run the CFPB while heading the Office of Management and Budget, why not give Mulvaney some more jobs?
Maybe put Mulvaney atop the Export-Import Bank (“Sen. Warren, while your loyalty to the military-industrial complex is touching…”). Or place him in an Education Department job (“Sen. Murphy, I understand you’re proud of your public school education in suburban Connecticut, which might have been different if students in nearby Hartford had the choice to attend your high school….”).
Ambitious Democrats deserve someone willing and able to trade blows with them. You know, to test their mettle.
But here’s the serious point about Mulvaney’s sparring with Warren. The Senate also deserves answers and accountability from federal agencies such as the CFPB. That’s because Congress, under our Constitution, is supposed to oversee the federal government.
That authority, however, was denied to Congress deliberately when Warren and her ilk established the CFPB. After Warren expressed frustration that the bureau wasn’t answering her questions well enough, Mulvaney wrote back: “I encourage you to consider the possibility that the frustration you are experiencing now, and that which I had a few years back, are both inevitable consequences of the fact that the Dodd-Frank … Act insulates the Bureau from virtually any accountability to the American people through their elected representatives.”
Why did Democrats build the bureau this way? Let reporter Glenn Thrush of the New York Times lay out the liberal line: Presented with Mulvaney’s complaint that CFPB had been placed outside the reach of Congress and thus democratic accountability, Thrush responded, “Or perhaps outside the reach of these folks?,” linking to the modest contributions of the payday industry.
In other words, Warren had seen regulator after regulator “captured” by industry and then become a tool to protect incumbent businesses from competition. Rather than reconsider the effects of regulation, Warren wanted a regulator that wouldn’t be captured. The result is a regulator that gets its funding without congressional approval, and whose unusually powerful director is not required to answer Congress’ questions.
So, here’s our more substantive proposal. If Elizabeth Warren wants more oversight, she should team up with Republicans to write a law that restores oversight over Mulvaney’s agency to the democratically-elected Congress. Then, Mulvaney would have to answer her questions. That’s what the Constitution says should happen. Perhaps the Massachusetts senator, who is a bankruptcy lawyer rather than a constitutional lawyer, didn’t know that. Now, she is learning that it does, and why.