One of the biggest betrayals committed by Donald Trump was his inclusion of a traditional Republican attack on regulation in a purportedly populist agenda. He managed to get many of his working-class followers to believe that weakening oversight of business was in their interest while it was actually a boon to the large corporations he pretended to challenge.
Some initial steps by President Biden indicate that he is ending that charade and will return regulatory agencies to their intended missions, especially when those involve helping working families. This intention can be seen both in his nominations for new agency heads and early confrontations with some Trump holdovers.
One of those confrontations took place at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency that was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and which incurred the wrath of business-friendly Congressional Republicans for its aggressive enforcement actions against financial sector abuses. Those politicians took special aim at the provisions in Dodd-Frank that gave the CFPB’s director a great deal of independence.
The Trump Administration worked hard to defang the CFPB and in 2017 succeeded in putting the agency under the control of OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, who was openly contemptuous of its mission. In 2018 Trump named Kathy Kraninger, a Mulvaney crony with no experience in financial regulation, to head the agency. After being confirmed on a party-line vote, Kraninger went on to weaken the CFPB’s rules against predatory lending and reduced enforcement activity against large banks.
Immediately upon taking office, Biden demanded Kraninger’s resignation. Ironically, Biden was able to take that action because opponents of the agency’s independence had prevailed in a Supreme Court decision. The new administration turned the tables and used the ruling to facilitate the reinvigoration of the agency.
While Kraninger agreed to resign, Biden had to fire Peter Robb, the powerful general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. A veteran management-side lawyer whose anti-union activity dates back to his involvement with the Reagan Administration’s attack on the air traffic controller’s union, Robb has spent the past three years doing his best to thwart the agency’s mission of promoting collective bargaining. He even tried to limit worker free speech by asking a federal court to bar the use of large inflatable rats on picket lines.
Robb’s term was not supposed to expire until November, but the Biden Administration apparently decided it was worth alienating Republicans in order to stop the damage Robb has been inflicting on labor rights.
Replacing these key policymakers at the CFPB and the NLRB will go a long way in reorienting the agencies back to their mission of protecting working families from the predatory practices of the financial services industry and the abusive practices of employers. They fit together with the overall change of direction signaled in the executive order Biden issued on his first day reversing Trump’s deregulatory framework.
These personnel and broad policy moves will hopefully be just the first steps in an extended campaign by the Biden Administration to end the demonization of regulation and to use the powers of the federal government to promote economic justice.