WASHINGTON (AP) - With emails, tweets and doughnuts, the two dueling acting directors battled for control of the nation’s top financial watchdog agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, on Monday.
Leandra English, who was elevated to interim director of the bureau late last week by its outgoing director, sent staff an email offering Thanksgiving wishes. President Donald Trump’s choice for the role - White House budget director Mick Mulvaney - then emailed staff to tell them to “disregard” any instructions from English.Both signed their missives “Acting Director.”
English has asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to block Mulvaney from taking over the bureau. She cited the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She said that as deputy director, she became the acting director under the law and argued that the federal law the White House contends supports Trump’s appointment of Mulvaney doesn’t apply when another statute designates a successor. The case, at the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., is being handled by Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee approved by the Senate recently.
English was promoted to chief of staff to deputy director by Richard Cordray as he prepared to resign last Friday. Cordray was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama and has been long criticized by congressional Republicans as being overzealous, but lauded by consumer advocates for aggressively going after banks for wrongdoing, like in the case of Wells Fargo. He was one of the last Obama-era political holdouts.
Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, has called the agency a “joke” and an example of bureaucracy run amok. He is expected to be critical of the bureau’s previous work and will likely push to dismantle some of the agency’s previous actions.
Cordray said Monday that the issue should be settled by a court.
“The law says that I shall appoint the deputy director, and I did so,” he said. “My understanding of the law is that the deputy director becomes the acting director upon my departure. If there are disagreements about those issues, then they should be settled in the courts.”
At the center of the controversy are two laws: the Dodd-Frank Act, the law passed after the financial crisis that created the bureau, and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which gives the president authority to appoint temporary department heads while their permanent nominees are approved by the Senate.
While the Vacancies Act does allow a president to appoint acting directors at agencies like the CFPB, the Dodd-Frank Act has specific language that seems to indicate that only a deputy director can step into the acting director position.