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Set aside the hate-mongering and the stream of conspiracy theories and demagogic bombast. Trump has sowed corruption of a breadth and brazenness unseen in the far-from-innocent annals of our nation’s history. In three years as president, he has transformed the executive branch into a giant favor factory, populated with the agents or willing partners of virtually every special interest. Add up all the routine, daily outrages—the quasi-bribery and quasi-extortion, the private raids on public funds, the handouts to the undeserving, the massive flow of cash, jobs, and freebies back in return—and Trump’s attempt to squeeze a little re-election help out of the fragile government of a desperate Eastern European country does not loom particularly large in the reckoning.
Senate Democrats are urging the Trump administration to pause non-critical work like overhauling environmental policies during the coronavirus pandemic. But the proposal is dead on arrival with the Trump administration, which said the crisis highlights the need for regulatory reform to cut red tape holding back businesses across the economy. It also comes as the administration enters a critical window -- just weeks remain to formalize rules that cannot be easily overturned by Democrats, should they prevail in November's elections. By late May or early June, there is no guarantee, legal experts say. The formal rulemaking process is a key avenue for presidents to leave a lasting impact, alongside pushing legislation through Congress and shaping law by arguing cases and appointing judges. At stake are the Trump administration's priorities around air pollution, water quality and power plants, balanced with what Senate Democrats described in a new letter as their concerns about "citizens' fundamental right to participate in the operations of their government." The letter, signed by 20 Democrats and one independent who typically sides with Democrats, asks the administration to pause the development and proposal of new federal rules "indefinitely" while "our nation is in the midst of a global pandemic and a worsening public health crisis." The letter essentially proposes freezing that formal process for at least several weeks. It calls for a pause in proposing new rules; for extending the window for the public and interest groups to write and submit formal responses to proposed rules; and for rescheduling public hearings. It suggests an exception for rules directly related to the coronavirus response and recovery.
On Tuesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and four colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee registered their dissent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s response to the coronavirus crisis. CFPB “has used this pandemic as an opportunity to protect big banks, payday lenders, debt collectors, and other corporate interests,” the Senators wrote. It’s been striking. CFPB has urged banks to offer consumers small-dollar loans with no restrictions on interest rates; eliminated reporting requirements proving anti-discrimination compliance for mortgage lenders and banks; lifted enforcement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act; and told mortgage servicing companies that they did not have to contact borrowers who fell behind more than a month on their payments (as is required by law). The one benefit for consumers? An educational initiative about low-dollar savings accounts, presumably for all the extra savings people have lying around these days. “They’re looking at this as a business crisis where they need to give leeway, but the problem in the consumer market is, if you give leeway, the burden will fall on consumers,” said Richard Cordray, the first director of the CFPB. Cordray, who has stayed mostly out of debates over consumer financial protection in the year and a half since his departure, wrote an unusual white paper this week with former colleagues Diane Thompson and Christopher Peterson, outlining steps that the CFPB must take in response to the pandemic. Cordray sees three waves to the crisis. Obviously there’s the public health catastrophe, followed by the induced macroeconomic coma of shutting down businesses nationwide. “The third wave we’re now seeing is the consumer harm that proceeds from that,” Cordray said. “I think it’s a key moment to protect the people of this country from the by-product of this depression.”