Any reasonable list of reasons why Donald Trump was able to win the presidency in 2016 would have to include his pledge to “drain the swamp.” Running as a pure outsider, his promise to take the bureaucracy firmly in hand and shake it until it became more responsive to the needs of the American people was as persuasive as it was meaningful.
The voters who backed him expected it to be more than a slogan. It was a commitment that established his limited government bona fides with the kind of conservatives who backed Goldwater, helped put Reagan in office, were key to the Newt Gingrich-led takeover of the House of Representatives, and whose disappointment in George W. Bush was so profound they took a walk rather than see him followed in office by John McCain.
Mr. Trump tried to bring the bureaucracy to heel but with little luck. It seems the folks closest to him — like daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner — still haven’t figured out all the ways in which the permanent government can fight off encroachments on its authority. For all his bluster, we’ve seen the president and his men and women bested time and time again thanks to the machinations of career employees inside the Executive Branch.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, even under the best of circumstances. One could argue bureaucratic resistance is to be expected. Even accounting for that, it’s puzzling the way the Trump agenda on deregulation and reform is being undermined by people he thought were on his team.
Take Kathy Kraninger, the current head of the Consumer Financial Protection Board which, according to more than a few folks inside the Beltway, is Exhibit A as far as the swamp goes. Conceived by Elizabeth Warren during the Obama administration, the CFPB was designed as an all-powerful regulator of financial institutions unaccountable to Congress or the president or anyone else save for its director who, the law creating it said, could not be removed from office except for cause.
Under its first fulltime operational head, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, the CFPB got into every issue it could, even some people argued it was prohibited by law from addressing. In Mr. Trump’s view as well as others, he overreached and, as a result, had to go. To make that happen, the president had to get the issue into the courts.
Fortunately for us all, the U.S. Supreme Court finally found in Mr. Trump’s favor. In a 5-4 decision, the majority held the CFPB’s original leadership structure to be unconstitutional. It said “No” to the idea the director of the agency could not be removed for reasons other than cause and clarified the path moving forward. Unfortunately, it failed to rule on whether the actions taken by Mr. Cordray should be allowed to stand.
Promising change, the president first put OMB Chief Mick Mulvaney as an acting CFOB director after Mr. Cordray stepped down — provoking the legal challenge the Supreme Court was called on to resolve because Mr. Cordray also designated a successor. After the issue of who was in charge was resolved, the president nominated Ms. Kraninger as the agency’s new permanent head.
It was a messy public battle that Mr. Trump needed to win and appeared to. Once on the job, Ms. Kraninger tweeted a promise to “continue with our important mission of protecting consumers with no question that we are fully accountable to the President.” Yet, she hasn’t taken any time to reflect at all on the court’s ruling. Instead, she’s proceeded with business as usual, re-ratifying regulatory actions the CFPB took between Jan. 4, 2012, and June 30, 2020, including Mr. Cordray’s most objectionable rulemakings.
If President Trump wanted the CFPB to oversee Elizabeth Warren’s plan to regulate the U.S. financial community as interpreted by Richard Cordray, he would have said so. He doesn’t and the ongoing battle he had with Mr. Cordray during the latter’s tenure attests to that. It’s reasonable therefore to presume Ms. Kraninger’s work rubber-stamping her predecessor’s rule-making efforts is at cross-purposes with what the president wants and what he promised would be done in his administration.
The high court has affirmed Mr. Trump’s authority to dismiss her because he does not like the job she is doing. Someone should remind her and remind him. Either she gets on board or it’s time to show her the door which, considering how she’s made common cause with the swamp dwellers, would be a useful warning — even at this late date — to everyone else in the administration.
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