Mulvaney to Congress: Thanks to you, I don't have to answer any of your questions -- ever

When Mick Mulvaney served in the House, he tried to warn colleagues that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was too independent of Congress. Now that he’s running the CFPB, Mulvaney wants to demonstrate just how correct he was. For the second straight day, the acting director has told a congressional panel that he can just sit in front of them all day and ignore their questions, and there’s nothing they can do about it:

Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), told a Senate panel on Thursday that he’s not legally bound to answer lawmakers’ questions, only to appear before them, in comments meant to stress his agency’s independence.

“While I have to be here by statute, I don’t think I have to answer your questions,” Mulvaney told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. “If you take a look at the actual statute that requires me to be here, it says that I ‘shall appear’ before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs of the Senate. And I’m here and I’m happy to do it.”

Mulvaney delivered the same message to the House yesterday. In testimony before the Financial Services committee, Mulvaney pointed out that the enabling statute for the CFPB only required him to show up when asked. Otherwise, he could just as well twiddle his thumbs or answer e-mails rather than answering any questions from Congress:

Mick Mulvaney took his seat before a congressional committee Wednesday for the first time since his controversial appointment to be the nation’s top consumer financial watchdog and boldly declared he didn’t have to say a word.

“I believe it would be my statutory right to just sit here and twiddle my thumbs while you all ask questions,” Mulvaney, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told the House Financial Services Committee.

Jeb Hensarling found it hilarious, calling protests from his Democratic colleagues “great comic relief”:

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who has been the leading opponent of the bureau, said “it is sheer irony and great comic relief to see the wailing and gnashing of teeth of many of my Democratic colleagues” about their inability to hold Mulvaney accountable.

Hensarling validated Mulvaney’s view that Dodd-Frank doesn’t require him to answer lawmakers’ questions, adding that “you could play Candy Crush for the next few hours and there would be nothing we could do about it.”

This attempt to force Congress to reckon with its own bad ideas didn’t just start yesterday. Mulvaney threw the first punch last week in correspondence with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who helped create the agency — and its independence from Congress. The Washington Examiner covered the exchange:

Acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Mick Mulvaney has told Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that he doesn’t plan on responding to her questions about the agency, and said it’s her fault that he is not required to answer.

Mulvaney, a conservative who was an outspoken critic of the bureau during his time as a congressman, told Warren in a letter sent Wednesday that the structure of the agency, which she helped design, shields him from accountability.

“I encourage you to consider the possibility that the frustration you are experiencing now, and that which I had a few years back, are both inevitable consequences of the fact that the Dodd-Frank… Act insulates the Bureau from virtually any accountability to the American people through their elected representatives,” Mulvaney wrote.

Mulvaney flat-out refused to answer Warren’s written questions. Both today and yesterday, though, Mulvaney engaged the questions from the panels. Perhaps a rhetorical hoisting of Congress by its own petard will be sufficient to get the message across, pushing Congress to reform the CFPB to make it more accountable in its exercise of power. Otherwise, Mulvaney might really have to play Candy Crush the next time rather than exchange Words With Authoritarians to make his point.

Reason’s Christian Britschgi reminds readers why Keith Ellison’s grandstanding on frosted glass in Mulvaney’s office missed the point about transparency by about as far as one can miss it:

Ellison—apparently under the impression that he had stumbled across a winning issue—also issued a press release on the topic and wrote a letter to Mulvaney, saying that “obscuring your activities behind frosted glass was antithetical to your professed goals of increased transparency.”

I can’t imagine what important information would be gleaned from requiring the head of a government agency monitored at all times by his subordinates. This is the kind of blatantly partisan and pointless griping that Democrats bemoaned under Pres. Obama. Given the significance and autonomy of the CFPB, Elisson’s crusade is borderline maddening.

As Reason’s Eric Boehm noted in June, “the CFPB does not have to answer to Congress or the president for its actions. It gets its funding directly from the Federal Reserve, and is run by a single director (an unusual arrangement since most regulatory agencies are run by a bipartisan group of three or five individuals) who serves a 10–year term and cannot be removed from office before that time.” …

Rather than take issue with this unaccountable structure, Ellison has praised it unconditionally, saying in a 2015 press release that “millions of Americans have had an ally protecting their mortgages, their paychecks, and their future.”

This was back when the unaccountable powers of the agency were wielded by an Democratic appointee. With this power now in the hands of his partisan foes, one might expect Ellison to interrogate the structure and powers of the office. Instead, he’s kvetching about its window tint.

I suspect that there will be some Candy Crush in Congress’ future with Mulvaney.

Update: Thanks to Lucianne for the link, and be sure to read Ace’s take on this, too. “I’m not a gay,” Ace writes, “but looking at Mick Mulvaney’s Bad Boy motorcycle-leather appeal, I have to say: I get it, Gay Dudes. I get it.” Plenty more at the link, too.