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Consumer bureau chief Richard Cordray testifies on Hill: Has he charmed the GOP?

Facing a hail of scrutiny from congressional Republicans in both the House and Senate over the last week, new consumer watchdog chief Richard Cordray has remained nonconfrontational.

By Staff writer / January 31, 2012

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray listens while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday before a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Washington

If ever there were a man in the hot seat, it would be Richard Cordray, President Obama's recess appointee to head the controversial new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But if Mr. Cordray ever felt the need to wipe sweat from his brow during confrontational hearings on Capitol Hill over the last week, he didn't show it.

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Rather, Mr. Cordray appeared to disarm some of the CFPB's congressional critics, avoiding confrontation and adopting an easygoing, forthright demeanor that defused some of the expected fireworks.

Still, it's doubtful his nonconfrontational and civil approach will be enough to overcome deep objections from many Republican lawmakers to the scope of the new bureau's powers. Many want to change the structure of the CFPB, from subjecting its budget to the annual appropriations process to implementing a board of directors, arguing that a struggling economy needs a lighter regulatory touch. And some are still steaming over Mr. Obama's end-run around Senate confirmation of Cordray to the post in December.

Cordray’s testimony before an oversight subcommittee was “good, it wasn’t great," said House Government Oversight Committee Chairman and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa. "I wish he’d come more prepared with the reality that his tenure might be short because he might not be lawfully appointed.”

Even so, Cordray stands in sharp contrast to Elizabeth Warren, who was tapped by President Obama last year to help set up the bureau. 

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.

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