By Nathalie Voit
The Senate confirmed Rohit Chopra as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Sep. 30 in what amounted to a close 50-48 vote. The move was met with resistance from Republicans, who opposed the nomination unanimously. Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote.
President Joe Biden’s CFPB pick is expected to be tougher on Wall Street than his Trump-era predecessors. In Chopra’s previous role as a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, he was known for his aggressive stance towards Big Tech. The 39-year-old CFPB pick publicly advocated for larger financial penalties and stricter enforcement of industry violators. Chopra made no qualms about calling out Facebook and Google for being mired in “endless scandals,” according to The New York Times.
Chopra was also a leading voice in the FTC’s nascent days. He spiraled through multiple high-ranking positions until finally landing the coveted role of inaugural student loan ombudsman, where he served until 2015. Under the Obama years, Chopra championed stricter policing of the federal student lending market, which had swelled to a +$1 trillion industry, the New York Times reported.
“He’s really part of that original Elizabeth Warren crew that was there at the beginning and stood up the agency and had tremendous vision for what it was supposed to do,” said Rachel Rodman, a former enforcement lawyer at the bureau who is now a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. “I view this as a return to that time and those priorities after the interruption of the Trump administration.”
But others, like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), are more concerned.
“I have grave concerns that Commissioner Chopra would return the CFPB to the lawless, overreaching, highly politicized agency it was during the Obama administration,” the Senator said during his speech opposing the nomination.
In an op-ed written for RealClear Policy, Thomas Miller Jr., professor of finance at Mississippi State University and senior research fellow at Consumers’ Research, also cast doubt on Chopra’s ability to lead a data-driven, research-centered agency, the “original vision” of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bureau.
Of particular concern are the findings from a Taskforce report left behind by former director Kathy Kraninger in January 2020. The two-volume report tapped 150 years’ worth of professional expertise to provide pivotal recommendations and “guiding principles to advance the cause of consumer protection and inclusion for years to come,” according to Professor Todd Zywicki, the Taskforce chair.
But the findings are at risk of being disregarded by the new administration. According to Miller, “no senator pressed Rohit Chopra, President Biden’s nominee for Director of the CFPB, about how he plans to use research to underpin future CFPB decisions” during his confirmation hearing.
The seeming aversion to building on a data-driven bureau corroborates concerns some critics have about the potential politicization of the CFPB.
According to NPR, Chopra is the agency’s third permanent director since the creation of the CFPB following the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Created by Congress in response to the 2008 financial crisis, the agency’s mission is simple: “to regulate financial companies and protect consumers,” the New York Times reported.