Republicans are urging President Donald Trump to fire the head of the nation’s primary consumer protection agency, and some Ohio Democrats focused on next year’s race for governor say go for it.
Richard Cordray is the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Depression. He is extremely unpopular with some congressional Republicans who consider the agency’s structure — designed to enhance its independence — as unconstitutional. They have dubbed Cordray “King Richard” because of the power that the law known as Dodd-Frank entrusted to the agency’s director.
“I just know this agency has hurt consumer protection in so many ways. It’s trampled on due process. He just needs to go and I’ll let somebody else sort through the political ramifications,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
Any firing of Cordray would likely result in litigation. It would also give the little-known government official an opening to run for office in his home state of Ohio, where some Democrats would view being fired by Trump as a badge of honor.
“If they were foolish enough to do that, it would just put the icing on the cake on his run for the governorship,” said Doris Adams, the chair for the Greene County Democratic Party.
“I think we’d throw a party for that one,” added Betsy Sheets, the chairman for the Wayne County Democratic Party.
Republican Gov. John Kasich is barred from running again due to term limits. Some Democrats see a Cordray candidacy not only as a shot at winning the governorship but as a chance to make the race a referendum on Trump, though he won the state by 8 percentage points last November.
Cordray served as Ohio’s treasurer from 2007-2009 and as its attorney general from 2009-2011. He lost a re-election campaign to the state’s current attorney general, former Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, by less than 2 percentage points in a year when most other statewide Democratic candidates did much worse. In 2011 President Barack Obama appointed him to lead the consumer agency.
The agency has been praised for working with California regulators in investigating Wells Fargo for opening bank and credit cards accounts that weren’t authorized by customers. The agency fined the bank $100 million last September.
Cordray is not allowed to discuss politics. A spokeswoman said he is focused on his current job.
Cordray’s term expires in July 2018, and Trump could simply let him remain in the job until then.
David Pepper, the head of the Ohio Democratic Party, said he has no idea what Cordray will do, but he expects that Cordray would fight any attempt to fire him “until the court of last resort said it was legitimate.” Cordray has until February to file to run for governor. Pepper said the task of raising money and organizing a campaign will likely require serious candidates to get in long before then.
Pepper said it wouldn’t make sense politically for Trump to fire Cordray.
“I just think the optics and politics of that is terrible for Donald Trump,” Pepper said. “It would be inconsistent with why people in Ohio voted for him.”
Behind the scenes, some Republicans say Trump should just wait Cordray out.
Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist in Ohio, said Cordray would clear the Democratic field if he decided to run, describing the Democratic bench of credible candidates in the state as “so thin, you’d fall off if you tried to sit on it.”
Weaver said that being fired by Trump would give Cordray an early jolt of momentum that would allow him to raise money nationally. However, he doubts that Cordray could overcome some of the obstacles that all Democratic candidates now face in Ohio with enthusiasm and organization taking a hit over the years due to poor election results. Republicans control both legislative branches in Ohio and all the major state government offices.
“Ohio is now solid center-right,” Weaver said.
Still, some on the right are preparing for a Cordray bid. A group calling itself Protect America’s Consumers has dedicated a website to attacking Cordray for his work at the consumer protection bureau. It’s unclear who funds the group’s activities.
The person credited with the idea of establishing Cordray’s consumer protection agency, Elizabeth Warren, parlayed her advocacy role into a successful run for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts.
Trump came into office promising to undo the Dodd-Frank law. The creation of the financial protection bureau was a key aspect of the law. The agency has taken action against banks, mortgage companies, credit card issuers, debt collectors and others. The CFPB says that over five years it has recovered $11.7 billion that it returned to more than 27 million consumers.
The White House has remained mum on its plans for Cordray.