Mick Mulvaney Said the Quiet Parts Out Loud

Former congressman Mick Mulvaney was tapped by Trump to become his budget director. But when Richard Cordray left his position as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to run for governor of Ohio, the president assigned him that job as well.

Mulvaney made a name for himself early on by defending the administration’s cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program with the suggestion that the Meals on Wheels program doesn’t work. Given that one of the most imminent threats we face as a result of pollution and climate change is access to clean water, this exchange with Sen. Stabenow of Michigan was also astounding in its ignorance.

Yesterday Mulvaney hit the trifecta when he addressed the American Bankers Association conference in Washington. First of all, he made it clear that his intentions are to do everything he can to gut the CFPB’s work of protecting consumers by giving a pass to financial predators.

Mr. Mulvaney, who also runs the White House budget office, is a longtime critic of the Obama-era consumer bureau, including while serving in Congress…Since then, he has frozen all new investigations and slowed down existing inquiries by requiring employees to produce detailed justifications. He also sharply restricted the bureau’s access to bank data, arguing that its investigations created online security risks. And he has scaled back efforts to go after payday lenders, auto lenders and other financial services companies accused of preying on the vulnerable.

But he wants Congress to go further and has urged it to wrest funding of the independent watchdog from the Federal Reserve, a move that would give lawmakers — and those with access to them — more influence on the bureau’s actions. On Tuesday, he implored the financial services industry to help support the legislative changes he has requested.

In talking about how banks can support this agenda, Mulvaney said the quiet parts out loud.

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mr. Mulvaney, a former Republican lawmaker from South Carolina, told 1,300 bankers and lending industry officials at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

In other words, the way for banks to gain access to members of Congress and convince them to completely defang CFPB (an agenda the banks already support) is to give them money. Could he be any more clear about the role of money in politics as a means to ensure legislation that favors the financial industry over consumers?

What is especially disturbing about all of this is that Mulvaney isn’t even trying to hide the fact that this is how they operate. If there is a calculation to the move, it is that this kind of thing becomes normalized when it’s out in the open and voters don’t react. He’s pretty confident that, when it comes to Republican voters, right-wing news outlets aren’t going to tell them that the president’s budget director openly promoted government corruption. That means that, when talking to bankers, Mulvaney is free to say the quiet parts out loud and assume he won’t be held accountable.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.