Can Rohit Chopra revive the CFPB after Trump let it languish?
In late , just one month after 15 graduates of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges announced the first-ever student debt strike, a group of those activists traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal regulators.
They’d been invited by Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsperson payday loans near me Collinsville OK of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency that had opened its doors just four years prior. The strike was against the Department of Education, but the CFPB had been investigating Corinthian for its predatory lending, and Chopra wrote that he’d like to discuss ways to address the activists’ burden.
At the CFPB’s offices across the street from the White House, Astra Taylor, co-founder of the Debt Collective-a national debtors union founded in the wake of Occupy Wall Street-remembers watching Treasury and Education Department officials shift uncomfortably in their seats, while Chopra remained friendly and curious. It was unusual, she said, to have someone in his position treat pressure from the grassroots as not a threat but as a legitimate force with essential leverage.
Wall Street’s New Foe Is a Close Ally of Elizabeth Warren
Chopra ended up leaving the agency a few months later, spending the last year of the Obama administration at the Education Department, an agency he had publicly critiqued for belittling the harms of the student loan crisis, followed by a post under Donald Trump at the Federal Trade Commission. But with a Democrat back in the White House, the CFPB needs fixing after a ruinous four years, and President Joe Biden tasked Chopra to return to his old agency. He’s been leading the CFPB since the Senate confirmed him as director in late September.
Chopra, who turned 40 at the end of January, served as student body president while an undergraduate at Harvard, where he earned a reputation for taking on campus administrators. Chopra is not afraid to be combative with those in power … [and] has made the often overlooked council a force to be reckoned with, reported The Harvard Crimson in 2003. There’s no advantage to being a pushover, Chopra told the student paper back then. He followed his Wharton MBA with a Fulbright in South Korea and a stint working for McKinsey. But by his late twenties he had switched to government, working at the Treasury Department to help launch the CFPB before it was an official agency. And along the way, he became a close ally of Elizabeth Warren, whose views he’s expected to revive at a CFPB that became captured by the GOP’s pro-bank dogma under Trump.
Born out of a 2007 essay published in Democracy, the CFPB’s mission, conceived by then-professor Warren and later enshrined in the Dodd-Frank Act after the Great Recession, is to regulate tricks and traps in the credit industry and make finance safer for regular people. Financial products should be subject to the same routine safety screening that now governs the sale of every toaster, washing machine, and child’s car seat sold on the American market, Warren wrote at the time.
In its first decade of operation, the CFPB emerged as one of the most admired and hated divisions in government. In 2017, President Trump called it a total disaster, and a week later Politico dubbed it the most powerful and consequential new federal agency since the Environmental Protection Agency opened its doors nearly half a century ago. The EPA comparison is a bit overstated, but since its founding the consumer watchdog has gone after all sorts of predatory actors, from large financial institutions to debt collectors. Under its first director, Richard Cordray, the CFPB returned almost $12 billion to tens of millions of Americans, extracting from companies a combination of consumer refunds and canceled debts.