The eleventh-hour nomination of Kathy Kraninger to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ends months of speculation about who would be named to fill the position.
But with the decision already under fire from the right and left alike, it doesn’t provide much clarity for the agency’s future. Below are three big questions that remain as Congress begins to consider the nomination:
How hard will the White House push to get Kraninger installed?
As an associate director at the Office of Management and Budget, Kraninger was virtually unknown to the financial services community before late last week, when rumors of the nomination began to surface. She has a background in homeland security issues and joined the administration from the Senate Appropriations Committee, but nothing is known about her views on financial services, consumer protection or regulation.
Her background has led some to wonder whether the Trump administration intends to seriously advocate for her confirmation — lobbying top senators and ensuring a successful vote — or whether she’s simply filling the role of nominee for acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, who can remain in the position provided the Senate is considering someone.
“Given Ms. Kraninger’s apparent lack of qualifications for this role, it appears that her nomination may be less about securing her confirmation as director, and more about allowing Mick Mulvaney to continue to operate as acting director, which this nomination will potentially allow him to do through 2020 if she is not confirmed,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, said in a statement Monday evening.
Is Kraninger a serious candidate, a placeholder or something in between? It’s a big unknown right now.
How will she perform at a confirmation hearing?
It’s possible that the answer to the first question may be addressed in part at Kraninger’s eventual confirmation hearing.
Given her lack of experience in the banking sector, her performance will be critical in determining whether she has a real shot at taking over the consumer agency — and whether the White House actually expects her to do so.
“Everybody’s going to be trying to figure out what she’s about,” said Charles Gabriel, president of Capital Alpha.
But Kraninger is expected to face tough questions when she sits before the Banking Committee — and already, complications from her homeland security work threaten to potentially derail her nomination. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sent a letter to Kraninger on Tuesday asking about her involvement at the budget office in the White House’s controversial “zero-tolerance policy” that has led to the separation of nearly 2,000 children from their parents this spring. Given sharp debate over use of the policy, any involvement could make it difficult to secure even moderate Republican votes.
As a lieutenant to Mulvaney at OMB, Kraninger’s position also raises questions about how much she would follow his lead as director in overhauling many of the agency’s core functions. Mulvaney had previously said he did not have a hand in choosing a successor, although the selection of his deputy raises doubts about that assertion. Given her time on the appropriations panel, will she focus on gutting the CFPB’s budget and laying off staff?
“I know that my efforts to rein in the bureaucracy at the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection to make it more accountable, effective, and efficient will be continued under her able stewardship,” Mulvaney said in a statement on Tuesday.
How long will Republicans be able to control the CFPB?
The uncertainty around the White House pick also makes it more difficult to address longer- term questions about the bureau’s future. How this confirmation process shakes out may help determine how long the GOP can maintain its sway over the agency.
There are a few possible scenarios to game out. Mulvaney could easily stay on as acting director into 2020 under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act as the Senate considers up to two nominees. If both are rejected, he can stay for another 210 days beyond that. That’s a crucial backstop even if Democrats are able to flip the Senate in the midterm elections this fall — an unlikely but mathematically possible event.
If Kraninger is confirmed in the months to come, she can serve out a five-year term, likely into 2023 or even 2024. If a subsequent nominee is confirmed, the clock on that term could start even later, extending well into a possible Democratic presidency in the years to come. The White House does have the power to fire a CFPB director for cause — something a future administration could use to its advantage — but that may be difficult to do.
Either way, Democrats are looking at a long period of time for the agency's critics to overhaul it.
“The deregulatory runway is quite long,” said Edward Mills, a managing director at Raymond James.
Bankshot is American Banker’s column for real-time analysis of today's news.