WASHINGTON—The Senate on Thursday confirmed
to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, overcoming Republican opposition that had slowed his nomination.
The 50-48 vote, along party lines, shows how the agency created in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-2009 remains a partisan flashpoint. Democrats have wanted a muscular CFPB to take on what they characterize as financial-industry excesses. Republicans and Wall Street firms have criticized the bureau as an instrument of runaway government regulation, with too much power over a significant slice of the economy.
Mr. Chopra was nominated in January to succeed
a Trump-appointed official who had run the bureau from 2018 until Jan. 20.
Mr. Chopra previously served as the bureau’s student-loan ombudsman during the Obama administration, where he used his public stage to push student-loan companies to improve their treatment of borrowers. His tactic of applying pressure through public means was a big departure from the more measured style of other financial regulators.
Mr. Chopra told Senate lawmakers in March that he would seek to protect Americans struggling with debt amid the coronavirus pandemic from potential abuses by lenders and look into issues such as data privacy.
The Senate Banking Committee voted 12-12 along partisan lines in March on the nomination of Mr. Chopra. Under rules in the evenly divided Senate, a nominee who receives a tie vote in committee can advance to the Senate floor via a motion by the majority leader. That motion moved forward last week in a 49-to-48 vote.
Dave Uejio, the bureau’s acting director, has taken steps to keep struggling borrowers in their homes. In July, the bureau completed rules that would generally prohibit mortgage companies from foreclosing on a home this year without first contacting homeowners to see if they qualify for a lower interest rate or some other loan change that makes it easier to repay.
Some analysts expect Mr. Chopra’s priorities to include scrutinizing the rapid growth of “buy now, pay later” companies, which rely less on—and in some cases bypass altogether—traditional credit scores and reports when approving shoppers, particularly individuals who don’t qualify for a credit card.
“With market research showing that young women and people of color are the predominant users of such platforms in the U.S., we expect that the CFPB will spend a great deal more time asking questions about this industry,” Brandon Barford of Beacon Policy Advisors wrote in a research note earlier this month.
The CFPB has been politically polarizing since former President
tapped Elizabeth Warren, then a Harvard law professor, to set it up. Ms. Warren, who is now a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, hired Mr. Chopra.
Progressive groups and consumer advocates have called on the CFPB to revisit rules softened or set aside during the Trump administration, such as a crackdown on payday lenders—who charge high rates of interest on short-term loans—and to revive work on a rule to rein in overdraft fees on checking accounts.
Mr. Chopra, who is 39 years old, has served on the Federal Trade Commission since 2018. He often wrote separate statements saying he wished the commission had taken bolder action in a variety of cases. In 2019, he joined another Democrat in objecting to a $5 billion settlement with
over a probe into the tech giant’s privacy missteps, contending it wasn’t tough enough.
Mr. Chopra’s confirmation leaves the FTC in a 2-2 split in the near term, which could prevent Democrats from bold action on antitrust enforcement in the interim. There have been a number of 3-2 party line votes at FTC in the months since Biden appointee Lina Khan took over as chairwoman.
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