WASHINGTON — Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney on Monday endorsed a congressional effort to overturn the agency's short-term lending rule, revealed plans to install more political appointees at the agency and acknowledged a possible prank played on him.
During a briefing with reporters, Mulvaney said he had asked legal staff to brief him on whether the agency could retool the recently finalized short-term lending rule, but acknowledged that may not be possible.
"It was fairly far out the door by the time we got here," said Mulvaney, who heads the Office of Management and Budget and was installed as acting CFPB director last week. (His leadership is still subject to a legal challenge by Deputy Director Leandra English.)
But Mulvaney made it clear he backed a House effort introduced on Friday to roll back the CFPB rule via the Congressional Review Act, a law that gives Congress 60 session days to nullify a regulation via a majority vote.
“I would support the Congress to move forward with the” Congressional Review Act, said Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman.
Mulvaney said he spoke to Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who co-sponsored the bill, along with Reps. Tom Graves, R-Ga.; Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.; Henry Cuellar, D-Tex.; Steve Stivers R-Ohio; and Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
It "is the more appropriate place … for the Congress to handle it through" a Congressional Review Act resolution, Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney has moved swiftly to take control of the agency since President Trump appointed him as acting director on Nov. 24. While he said the transition has been smooth, he acknowledged that there may be some bitter feelings on behalf of staff.
He revealed that over the weekend, he called the building's technicians because it had become too hot in his office.
"It was 80 degrees on Saturday and we called in HVAC to go take a look at it and they said, 'Mr. Director we don't know what the problem is. Every thermostat works except yours and there is a security code and nobody knows what the code is,' " Mulvaney said.
Asked if it might have been an elaborate prank, he said that "the thought has crossed my mind."
But Mulvaney is planning to stay for the long haul. He told reporters he can can legally serve as the bureau’s acting director for up to 210 days. He expects to lead the agency for five to seven months as it’s taken time for the Trump administration to name new nominees and for the Senate to approve them.
Last week Mulvaney announced a freeze on hiring, enforcement actions and policymaking. He said he plans at looking at future enforcement actions on a case-by-case basis, but that will take time. There were more than 100 pending cases, including investigations that have concluded and ones that are already in litigation.
“I am looking at each of those on an individual basis,” he said.
Additionally, Mulvaney has halted the CFPB's collection of anonymized data from consumers. Republicans like Senate Banking Committee Chair Mike Crapo have argued it represents a security risk.
As the Trump administration continues to put its stamp on the agency, more political appointees will be installed at the bureau, Mulvaney said.
Brian Johnson, a former top staffer for the House Financial Services Committee, is already at the bureau assisting with day-to-day operations. Mulvaney’s chief of staff, Emma Doyle, is splitting time between the management and budget office and the CFPB.
Mulvaney said he plans to “marry whoever the most senior staffer is” at each division of the CFPB with a political appointee.
“There are 1,600 people who work here, which tells you maybe they didn’t think they needed to have any political people here because a lot of the people here were political anyway,” he said.
Mulvaney said English, who is deputy director at the CFPB and claims she is its acting director legally, is working out of a separate office. She has sent three emails asserting herself as the acting director. Mulvaney said he has told her by email not to do so and has directed her to fulfill specific duties related to serving as deputy director. However, he has not spoken to her in person, citing that he is a named person in the lawsuit English filed.
Despite the battle over leadership of the bureau and the possible prank in his office, Mulvaney said staff has been supportive.
As head of CFPB, Mulvaney will also sit on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s board and the Financial Stability Oversight Council. He said he plans on being an “active participant” on both despite his temporary status. However, Mulvaney said he hasn’t discussed regulations with other agencies.
“All of our conversations to date have been internal here at the CFPB,” Mulvaney said.
He emphasized, however, that regulations promulgated by the CFPB under the Trump administration will be different.
“You could imagine that the Office of Management and Budget under the Trump administration might look very cautiously, even cynically, against rules that were produced by" former CFPB Director Richard Cordray, Mulvaney said.
Yet he said he hasn’t charted a course for the bureau yet.
“I am trying to figure out how to articulate how things are going to be different,” he said. “That is really what I need to set aside some time to do fairly quickly.”