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New Consumer Watchdog Richard Cordray Makes First Appearance on Capitol Hill

January 24, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Richard Cordray, the new federal consumer watchdog, visited Capitol Hill Tuesday and defended the Obama administration's agenda to skeptical Republicans. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, A new consumer watchdog overseeing many players in the financial industry went to Capitol Hill today and defended the Obama administration’s agenda to skeptical Republicans.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has our update.

MAN: If you will raise your right hand.

PAUL SOLMAN: Weeks after his embattled recess appointment to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray appeared before a congressional oversight subcommittee.

President Obama tapped Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, last summer. But the nomination was stalled by the Senate. Republicans insisted the CFPB is too powerful and lacks oversight.

Republican Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who chaired today’s hearing, repeated that charge.

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY, R-N.C.: The fact of the matter is, the operations and authority of the CFPB still remain a mystery to Congress and the American public.

PAUL SOLMAN: During questioning, McHenry pressed Cordray to lay out the CFPB’s agenda for the coming year.

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY: With these roughly 800 employees you have and a budget that’s hundreds of millions of dollars, will you lay that out?

RICHARD CORDRAY, director, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: I think our agenda has been pretty clear to everybody who has interacted with us, from the Chamber to consumer groups. I’m happy to have my staff work with you, and if that seems to be a best practice, that that’s something that we could do.

We’re not intending to hide the ball. I think our priorities are quite clear. We have stated them very clearly.

PAUL SOLMAN: Critics have also challenged the legality of President Obama’s recess appointment of Cordray. Today, though, he faced tough, but not uncordial questioning.

New Hampshire Republican Frank Guinta.

REP. FRANK GUINTA, R-N.H.: Does it concern you that the process by which you were appointed has an impact on those very individuals or businesses or banks that you’re going to be regulating?

RICHARD CORDRAY: I understand that there’s controversy that people have raised about the appointment. My intention here is, I’m in a job, it’s an important job, it’s a big job that commands all my time and attention.

All I can do is try to carry out the responsibilities that the law of the land now has put on my back, and to try to do it in a way that is consistent with the values you articulated, which I think are good ones for us: transparency and accountability.

PAUL SOLMAN: Democrat Carolyn Maloney, meanwhile, tried to draw Cordray out on Republican resistance.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY, D-N.Y: I’m having difficulty understanding why people want to delay, stall, defang. Do you have any idea why some people feel that way?

RICHARD CORDRAY: I don’t have a very informed perspective on that issue. I just know that I believe that the right thing for us to do is to go ahead and do our work. And that’s what we’re going to do.

PAUL SOLMAN: California Republican Darrell Issa asked Cordray how his agency would carry on if his appointment is challenged in court.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-Calif.: Have you looked for ways to ensure that, even if your appointment ceased to be valid, that the work that you’re overseeing would somehow have the ability to continue on because of some level of redundancy of authority?

RICHARD CORDRAY: I do think the one thing that we could not do — and I think it would be dereliction of duty — is for me to say we’re not going to go forward and do the things the law of the land now tells us to do because I’m going to somehow act as though I wasn’t appointed. I just think that that’s not tenable.

PAUL SOLMAN: In the end, no fireworks today. Next month, the House Judiciary Committee will hold its own hearing on the constitutionality of Cordray’s appointment.