Hey Chairman. That’s right, you: Rep. Patrick McHenry, chairman of the House Oversight TARP Subcommittee. You’re grilling Elizabeth Warren today claiming she overstepped her authority in working with state attorneys general prosecuting mortgage fraud. Bad idea.
For context, President Obama named her Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She’s charged generally with policing the “deceptive, unfair and abusive” tactics in the financial sector. That means the high interest rates saddled onto unsuspecting (and sometimes illiterate) borrowers who qualified for lower rates. It means the hidden charges in checking accounts whose contracts average 111 pages of fine print. It means widespread mortgage fraud that is admitted as fraud, which is why there are settlement talks.
But Mr. Henry, you’ve discovered that she hasn’t simply been sitting back with a pipe like Fred MacMurray/Steve Douglas laconically offering wisdom to his three sons as they navigate life’s hurdles. She’s attending meetings. Dozens of meetings. Meetings, we thought, is one possible way to impart advice. We’re shocked, shocked, Patrick, that she would do that! Meetings?! What next? Bring coffee?
Watching Congress from the outside, which is what we do here at Congress Watch, it’s pretty clear that you’re coming off as the bad guy, and Ms. Elizabeth Warren appears to be a saint.
We’re only thinking of your political future, Chairman McHenry. Banks aren’t popular. They rank below Congress in the polls. Your district still suffers unconscionable unemployment thanks to the economic crash the banks caused. Are you proud that Wells Fargo comes up first on your list of campaign contributors when one opens opensecrets.org after googling “Patrick McHenry opensecrets”? Or that if you scroll down that page, and add the insurance, real estate and commercial bank industries together (all part of the financial industry), they swamp the next largest cluster of campaign contributors? Warren is popular. Folks are thinking of running her for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Has any constituent (other than a bank lobbyist) knocked on your door saying, “Good job, protecting those banks. America needs more congressmen of that brand of public service.”
Are you really trying to generate headlines that read: “McHenry Goes after Anti-fraud Crusader?” You may wish to give your old boss Karl Rove a call. It’s tough to believe that smart operator thinks you’re on the right track. He’d tell you the first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.
Bartlett Naylor is a financial policy analyst for Public Citizen