The Senate voted 50-48 on Thursday to confirm Rohit Chopra to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, bringing to an end a drawn-out effort to put a new director at the agency Congress established in the wake of the financial crisis more than a decade ago.
The confirmation marks a return to the agency for Chopra, who oversaw the CFPB’s student loan work first as assistant director and later as the first student loan ombudsman from 2010 to 2015. It brings Chopra’s stint as a member of the Federal Trade Commission to an end.
Democrats and consumer advocates cheered Chopra’s confirmation, laying out an agenda for the CFPB that includes improving the servicing of student loans and the accuracy of credit reports and a crackdown on high-cost online lenders.
In a floor speech that touched on stagnant wages; rising health care, child care and education costs; and “Made in the USA” labels, Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Chopra would be a voice for the forgotten in Washington.
“It's not surprising that most people don't believe there's anyone on their side fighting for them in the federal government, but we know that's not true,” Brown said. “That's why Rohit Chopra will prove them wrong. He’ll fight for all those that feel like they've been left on their own."
Brown pointed to Chopra’s record on student loans and taking on big technology companies and predatory lending.
“He has a deep understanding of financial markets, a strong record of protecting consumers and workers and small businesses, promoting competitive markets, holding bad actors accountable,” Brown said, adding that in 2018 the Senate voted unanimously to confirm Chopra as FTC commissioner.
Consumer advocates welcomed Chopra’s confirmation.
“There could be no better consumer watchdog at the helm of this critical agency, and we are confident that the American consumer will be protected by their friend, Rohit Chopra,” said Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.
Gillis said Chopra should fix the student loan crisis and fully implement forgiveness for public service.
Chopra worked on student loans while at the CFPB during the Obama administration. He focused on competition in loan financing and misconduct by loan servicers, debt collectors and for-profit colleges. He also later worked as a special adviser to the secretary of Education on improving student loan servicing and lowering defaults.
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee in March, Chopra drew attention to the disproportionate burden that student loan debt foists on Black borrowers, who are less likely to rely on their families to pay for school and may face lower wages upon graduation because of pay discrimination.
Chopra should also rein in high-cost online lenders skirting banking regulations and improve the “critically important” credit score system, Gillis said in a statement. The FTC in 2013 found that one in five consumers had an error on a credit report from at least one of the three major credit reporting agencies.
“Rohit Chopra is not afraid to peel back the onion to ensure that credit scoring programs are fair and consumers have recourse when their information is wrong,” Gillis said. The vote brought to an end a process that began with Chopra’s nomination on Feb. 2. Republican opposition helped slow the process. The Senate had to take extra steps to bring his confirmation to the floor for a final vote after the Banking Committee’s attempt to advance his nomination ended in a 12-12 tie.
Republicans remained staunch in their opposition to his confirmation.
Senate Banking ranking member Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., said Chopra would return the CFPB to “the lawless, overreaching, highly politicized agency it was during the Obama administration."
Toomey criticized Chopra’s track record while at the CFPB and as FTC commissioner, as well as the structure of the agency for leaving too little room for congressional oversight.
Congress made the CFPB more independent than most agencies when it established it in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act (PL 111-203) by funding it through the Federal Reserve and saying the president could remove the director only for cause. The Supreme Court has since ruled that the president can replace the director at will, but the court didn't otherwise rule on the CFPB's structure.
“At his nomination hearing, Commissioner Chopra defended the CFPB’s unaccountable structure. This raises concerns about how he would wield power at the CFPB,” Toomey said. "At the CFPB, he would not be accountable to Congress through the appropriations process. And since the CFPB is a single-director agency, there would be no other commissioners to restrain him.”