This afternoon a federal judge ruled against Leandra English, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray's pick to be the bureau's interim director. English had filed a lawsuit to stop Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's pick for the job, from assuming the role. The high drama kicked off last Friday during the Thanksgiving weekend, when Cordray announced it would be his last day, and that he was naming his chief of staff as deputy director. Since then, because of two conflicting laws governing how to fill the vacancy, it was unclear who was actually in charge. Mulvaney showed up on Monday, occupied Cordray's old office, and began work. English emailed the staff, but reportedly spent the day on Capitol Hill. Mulvaney held a 20-minute press conference yesterday afternoon from the bureau, and took quite a few questions. He made it clear he intended to come to work until the President or a judge said otherwise. A few hours ago, Judge Timothy Berry of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia settled the matter; he denied Leandra English's request for a restraining order to bar Mulvaney from serving as the CFPB’s acting director. Now Mulvaney is free to do as he described in the press briefing - he will spend three days a week at the CFPB and three days a week at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), his "full time" job. He acknowledged that added up to more than a regular workweek, but that he was perfectly prepared to do it as long as he is needed.
He also promised that a CFPB under his leadership will look very different than a CFPB under Cordray's leadership. While he didn't spell out specifics, he said he is in the process of receiving briefings on enforcement actions and regulations that are in play. And he has imposed a 30 day hold on, basically, any new activity. He said he was impressed with the professionalism of those he has met so far at the CFPB, and he imagined that they appreciated his candor in expressing his intentions.
A top Consumer Financial Protection Bureau official on Sunday sued the Trump administration to block the appointment of Mick Mulvaney as the temporary director of the independent agency, the National Law Journal reported. The lawsuit forces a judge to confront a clash over who should rightfully lead the agency as the White House looks to nominate a permanent replacement for Richard Cordray. Leandra English, named deputy director of the consumer bureau last week, asked a federal judge to declare that Mulvaney, director of Office of Management and Budget, is not the agency’s acting director and order the Trump administration to “refrain from appointing any individual to the position of Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” The lawsuit comes just days after Cordray elevated English, his chief of staff, to the deputy role — a promotion that was meant to put her in line to become acting director. Hours after Cordray announced his resignation, effective Nov. 24, Trump appointed Mulvaney to lead the CFPB, setting the stage for a battle over the leadership of an agency Republicans and financial services advocates have assailed and supporters have applauded as a champion for consumers. “The talented and hard-working CFPB staff stand up for consumers every day. As acting director, I am filing this lawsuit to stand up for the CFPB,” English said in a statement Sunday.
The Republican tax plan being considered in Congress would eliminate a tax exemption on some types of bonds issued by state and local governments to refinance their old debt, the Wall Street Journal reported. The GOP proposal targets the exemption for so-called advanced refunding bonds, which allow governments to refinance old bonds earlier to take advantage of low interest rates and, occasionally, to postpone upcoming debt payments. The House approved its version of the tax measure last week, and the GOP has said that it aims to get agreement on the bill by year’s end. It is one of several municipal-market exemptions that could be phased out under the legislation. The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that ending advance refundings would mean an additional $17.3 billion in revenue to the federal government over the next decade.
A battle of “bankruptcy tourists” has erupted in New York court, with unclear consequences for global companies and their bondholders, Bloomberg News reported. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn yesterday refused to issue a ruling on a request by Ocean Rig UDW Inc. to block a lawsuit in the Marshall Islands that it said threatens a $3.7 billion restructuring approved in Cayman Islands Courts. Judge Glenn said he would think about the “extraordinary” issues the case raised, possibly ruling later. "You want me to stop litigation in another sovereign country," Glenn said in court Thursday, adding that he had never seen such a request and that there was no clear precedent. If Highland wanted to try to recover Ocean Rig’s U.S. assets in U.S. court, then the issue would be in his jurisdiction, he said. Any decision in the case could have wider implications for what restructuring experts call "bankruptcy tourism." In the past, bankruptcy participants wrangled over the merits of Delaware versus New York courts, and sometimes drew criticism about "forum shopping" for a venue that favored their case. Now companies and creditors are engaged in international battles over where they can best win their debt wars. "This is the next phase of the restructuring business,” said William Brandt Jr., chief of a New York-based restructuring advisory firm Development Specialists. "Bankruptcy tourism will come into the fore." Brandt cited his work as a trustee in the international case of China Fishery Group Ltd., where he regularly travels from Lima to Hong Kong. Another example, he said, is Oi SA, a Brazilian telecom company, in which Aurelius Capital Management is fighting a battle that involves jurisdiction of Dutch, U.S. and Brazilian law.
The Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee has curtailed one of the last legislative limits on a president’s power to shape the federal courts, giving Donald Trump more freedom than any U.S. president in modern times to install his judges of choice, legal experts said, the Wall Street Journal reported. Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reined in a tradition that empowered senators to block federal appeals-court nominees from their home state. His decision came about four years after Democrats, citing Republican filibusters of President Barack Obama’s circuit-court nominees, eliminated a Senate rule that required the majority party to mount 60 votes to advance a nominee to a confirmation vote. Together, the threat of a filibuster — or delaying tactic — and use of “blue slips” — so-named because senators indicate support or opposition to nominees on blue slips of paper — guarded against lifetime appointments for nominees deemed far outside the mainstream, court experts said. Others said the changes were part of a natural progression away from Senate traditions that allowed the minority party to stall nominations for partisan reasons.
After the financial crisis in 2008, the Obama administration turned one of the banking industry’s friendliest regulators into one of its toughest. But that agency is now starting to look like its old self — and becoming a vital player in the Trump administration’s campaign to roll back regulations, the New York Times reported. The regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees the nation’s biggest banks, has made it easier for Wall Street to offer high-interest, payday-style loans. It has softened a policy for punishing banks suspected of discriminatory lending. And it has clashed with another federal regulator that pushed to give consumers greater power to sue financial institutions. The shift, detailed in government memos and interviews with current and former regulators, is unfolding without congressional action or a rule-making process. It is happening instead through directives issued at the stroke of a pen by the agency’s interim leader, Keith A. Noreika, who — like the nominee to fill the post going forward — has deep connections to the industry. Even in his few months on the job, Noreika has made the new direction clear. At a meeting with staff members over the summer, he declared that the agency was returning to what he called its natural state, according to one of those who attended. The shift could help revive some of the policies and practices that arose on the agency’s watch amid the financial crisis and banking scandals of a decade ago — and that led congressional investigators to accuse it of “systemic failures.”
Puerto Rico is considering suspending debt-service payments for five years, a lead lawyer for the territory’s federal oversight board said, in the first indication of how the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria will affect the restructuring of the island’s debt, Bloomberg News reported. A moratorium may be included as part of Puerto Rico’s plan to reduce what it owes through bankruptcy, Martin Bienenstock, a partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, who represents the panel, said at a court hearing yesterday in Manhattan. It wasn’t immediately clear whether such a step would apply to all of government’s $74 billion of debt. The government’s most actively traded bonds fell yesterday to an average of 25 cents on the dollar, the lowest since they were issued in 2014 and less than half what they were worth before the storm. The September hurricane worsened the financial pressure that had already pushed the Caribbean island of 3.4 million residents into a record-setting bankruptcy. Puerto Rico this year initially said it could allocate $8 billion for debt payments through 2026, far less than the $33.4 billion that’s owed. Those plans have since been upended by the fallout from the hurricane, which Puerto Rico’s federal oversight board estimates may leave a budget shortfall of as much as $21 billion over the next two years. Puerto Rico is currently revising the fiscal plan.
While Toys “R” Us world headquarters are in Wayne, N.J., the struggling retailer chose not to file for bankruptcy in nearby Newark, N.J. Instead, the toy company followed an increasing number of corporations — from Gymboree to a major coal company to a Pennsylvania fracking company — that are choosing to file for bankruptcy in Richmond, Va., according to a New York Times analysis. In recent years, Richmond has become the destination wedding spot for failed companies. The bankruptcy court there offers several features attractive to the executives, bankers and lawyers trying to get an edge in the proceedings. First, Richmond’s bankruptcy court offers a so-called rocket docket that moves cases along swiftly. Second, the legal record in that court district includes precedents favorable to companies, like making it easier to walk away from union contracts. But perhaps one of the biggest draws, according to bankruptcy lawyers and academics, is the hefty rates lawyers are able to charge there. The New York law firm representing Toys “R” Us, Kirkland & Ellis, told the judge that its lawyers were charging as much as $1,745 an hour. That is 25 percent more than the average highest rate in 10 of the largest bankruptcies this year, according an analysis by the New York Times.
Cordray said Wednesday that he plans to resign as director at the end of the month. "It has been a joy of my life to have the opportunity to serve our country as the first director of the Consumer Bureau by working alongside all of you here. Together we have made a real and lasting difference that has improved people's lives," he said in a note to CFPB staff. Republicans have long loathed Cordray, who they see as having overstepped his regulatory authority and as lacking oversight. After President Trump's election, some called for his ouster. "It's time to fire King Richard," Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said last January. But his departure may have more to do with his personal political aspirations than GOP pressure. Cordray is widely thought to be preparing a 2018 run for governor of Ohio. Before he was appointed to lead by the CFPB by President Obama in 2012, he served as Ohio's attorney general and treasurer. With Cordray gone, President Trump will have a chance to rework the consumer protection agency, which was created under the 2010 Dodd-Frank regulatory reform law following the 2008 financial crisis. "[Cordray's CFPB has] done a lot of good, but they've also been very controversial. It's been a real political football since its inception, and it will likely look and operate quite differently once Cordray leaves," Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst with CreditCards.com, said in a statement.
Dozens of banks received the biggest signal yet that they may soon be freed from some of the most onerous rules put in place after the financial crisis, as lawmakers from both parties agreed to a plan that would enact sweeping changes to current law, the Wall Street Journal reported. The bipartisan Senate agreement released Monday would relieve small and regional lenders from a number of restrictions meant to limit the damage firms could cause to the economy in the event of another crisis. In what would be the biggest step to ease the financial rule book since Republicans took control of Washington, D.C., the proposal could cut to 12 from 38 the number of banks subject to heightened Federal Reserve oversight by raising a key regulatory threshold to $250 billion in assets from $50 billion. The legislation also would ease red tape affecting credit unions and community banks, allowing them to lend more, supporters said. The deal will “significantly improve our financial regulatory framework and foster economic growth by right-sizing regulation,” said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), who brokered the agreement between Republicans and a group of moderate Democrats.