New York Times reporter Nick Confessore was on MSNBC's Morning Joe Tuesday to talk about his nearly 8,400 word article about Acting White House Chief of Staff and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney's changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau entitled "Mick Mulvaney's Master Class in Destroying the Government From Within," under the graphic "Make America Pay Again." Morning Joe did not appreciate Mulvaney's effort to rein in the runaway bureaucracy.
Co-host Mika Brzezinski introduced Confessore by stating the origins and purpose of the CFPB and that it continues to be necessary to protect consumers, citing his article that, "the Trump Administration has created a bonanza for predatory lenders."
Confessore described Mulvaney's actions: "What they've done slowly and carefully is take apart the House that [Elizabeth] Warren built. Pulling out a screw here, unscrewing a light bulb here or turning off the security camera there, so ultimately the agency can do less and is less effective at its stated message."
Liberal commentator Mike Barnicle called it "sabotage." After some talk about payday loans, BBC anchor Katty Kay asked "Is this part of what Steve Bannon very early on in the administration described as the destruction of the administrative state more broadly and suspicion of government entities and regulation across the board?" Confessore said that it was "a case study in what Bannon had laid out as a goal of the Trump Administration. I would argue it's been more successful for being more subtle. It has not been a chainsaw. It has been a careful diminution of the powers and authority of this bureau in plain sight."
Throughout the conversation, Confessore did talk about the argument people like Mulvaney give when defending the decision to rescind the federal regulation passed by Obama-era Director Richard Cordray relating to payday lending. However, Morning Joe ignored the CFPB's history of unnacountability due to it's nature as an independent agency and constitutional concerns over its structure. It took until paragraph 32 for Confessore to bring up such concerns in his New York Times featured article.
Here is a transcript for the April 16 show:
7:49 AM ET
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Joining us now politcal writer for "The New York Times" and MSNBC political analyst Nick Confessore, his cover story for the upcoming issue of "The New York Times" magazine is entitled "Make America Pay Again," about what the piece calls “Mick Mulvaney's master class in destroying the government from within" and how the Trump Administration has created a bonanza for predatory lenders. I mean this is everything we’ve been talking about for a decade now. This is Elizabeth Warren's message. You know, like it or not, a lot of people in the finance industry had a problems with her message and The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but it was built to protect the consumer, there was a point to it and quite frankly presidential campaigns and even this administration has left the consumer hanging as you point out.
NICK CONFESSORE: Right, Mika. This is a story about the two waves of populism and theory of the government that emerged after the financial crash. And the Warren idea was that the financial markets, the consumer credit industry was built on a sleight of hand, of fooling customers that their products, credit cards and mortgages and auto loans were actually cheaper than they appeared and it was time for the consumer agency to step in and protect consumers. On the other poll, the poll that gave us Trump ultimately was the idea that the real problem in the financial crash was the government working too closely with elites and the government that did too much and stepped in too often. And the irony of all this is that a president who ran against banks, who kind of ran against Wall Street and bashed hedge fund guys, bought in a President of Goldman Sachs, who then gave us a guy to run the CFPB, who could call it “a sick sad joke” and wanted to get rid of it. And what we've seen again is a master class in how you deconstruct struck an agency from within. What you won't see with Mulvaney as you have with other Trump appointees are these financial scandals, implosions and getting smack back by courts over and over again. What they've done slowly and carefully is take apart the House that Warren built. Pulling out a screw here. Unscrewing a light bulb here or turning off the security camera here. So ultimately the agency can do less and is less effective at its stated message.
MIKE BARNICLE: This sabotage of the Consumer Protection Bureau by Mick Mulvaney and the people he’s staffed the place with, let's start by differentiating between legitimate financial institutions which are heavily regulated and things lake payday loan operations which absolutely devour families and individuals on a weekly basis.
CONFESSORE: So, Payday lenders are a specific category of lender. They aren't banks. They tend to work with the working poor. What they do is offer you $400 short term for two weeks in exchange for a $75 fee on average. And what happens often, as the bureau found under Obama people can't afford to pay back the first loan and keep paying the loan over and offer again, taking out a new loan over and over again until those fees add up to more than the price of the loan. This is called a death trap by consumer advocates. So Cordray, Richard Cordray, the Obama appointee, who ran the agency under Obama, he said, “It’s time for a federal rule about payday.” There was no federal regulation of this entire industry. It was very active in certain states. Very active in Trump country and their customers are often the Trump base and he said “Let's have a rule that says before you make a loan you have to see if the person can actually pay it back” and Mulvaney came in and his first thing was to go after that rule and say “It's time to unwind it and get rid of it.”
BARNICLE: So it's like getting a loan from a mob.
CONFESSORE: There are people who compare pay lenders to loan sharks and the annual percentage rates are in fact as high as a loan shark: 400%, 500%, 800% sometimes.
EUGENE ROBINSON: Nick, this is sort of a master class in how this was done, but my question is why? We have, everybody understands that it's a role of the federal government to protect us, for example, from food that would make us sick from drugs that would do us harm. Why not from, from these sorts of practices that do actual harm to people who are vulnerable?
CONFESSORE: Well, two or three arguments against this. And the first one is that these loans are important to the working poor. It's often the only source of credit they can get access to. If we get rid of these loans they are caught off from credit. If you think about it, access to credit is a basic part of American life. It's hard to go to college or buy a car or buy a house if you don't have access to credit. The argument that defenders of the industry make and people close to Mick Mulvaney made if you shut these guys down entirely you actually drive the working poor into the arm of the actual loan sharks and make it harder for them to get things. The other is a broader idea that the government shouldn't get involved in these transactions. Shouldn't ban certain products. And the important thing to remember the Warren critique here is if you take your credit card statement, try and decide how it actually works. Read your credit card statement and try to get through it and understand it. What she said you can't. The average consumer can't. The average argument on the right and the argument at the top of the bureau right now it's not up to the government to come in and say that this transaction, this loan agreement should be banned. It's up to the consumer and the lender.
KATTY KAY: So, Nick, is this just Mick Mulvaney and his attitude towards consumer protection and everything that came out of from the Carolinas or is this part of what Steve Bannon very early on in the administration described as the destruction of the administrative state more broadly and suspicion of government entities and regulation across the board?
CONFESSORE: It's a case study in what Bannon had laid out as a goal of the Trump Administration. I would argue it’s been more successful for being more subtle. It has not been a chainsaw. It has been a careful diminution of the powers and authority of this bureau in plain sight.
BRZEZINSKI: All right, Nick Confessore, we'll be reading your cover story in the "New York Times Magazine". A great piece. Really important.
CONFESSORE: Thanks, Mika