When Ms. Warren, a Harvard professor now running for Senate in Massachusetts, came before the committee in May, the hearing was often tense, including a testy exchange with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina.
Representative Gowdy wanted to know if consumers had a responsibility to educate themselves on financial topics. Warren refused to give a yes or no answer on the subject. Gowdy, exasperated, closed out his questioning with, “Mr. Chairman, I give up.”
Gowdy lofted a similar question to Cordray when the new CFPB chief appeared before the same committee last week.
Consumers need to be responsible for their own actions, Cordray said. In fact, he had worked to create mandatory financial literacy education for high school students in Ohio. The role of the CFPB, he concluded, was to make sure consumers understood the costs and the risks more fully up front, not to save them from bad decisions.
“Mr. Chairman,” Gowdy said, ending his questioning with a hint of satisfaction, “may the record reflect that Mr. Cordray answered the question.”
Time and again, Cordray leaned on his experience as treasurer and attorney general in Ohio to adroitly handle questions from his Republican interlocutors. He cited improving a small business loan program by simplifying forms and reducing bureaucracy, and discussed prosecuting businesses that, seeking a cost advantage over their competitors, skimped on their property taxes.
The House Oversight Committee’s ranking Democrat, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, thinks public pressure has made Republicans less eager to criticize Cordray. But Cordray’s demeanor has also been a significant factor.
“They tried to make him look like the boogeyman,” Representative Cummings said. “But they couldn’t do it because he came off as very reasonable and basically presented a win-win case for their constituents and for the banking community.”