Kathy Kraninger, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the consumer finance bureau, took a lot of tough questions during the Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, but the toughest came from Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and it didn’t have anything to do with financial protection.
Warren, a champion and one of the architects of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, used her time questioning Trump’s nominee to focus on Kraninger’s role in implementing the “zero-tolerance” border policy and the separation of families who crossed the U.S. border illegally from Mexico.
Little is known about Kraninger’s approach to financial policy, and while many senators used the hearing to ask about specific consumer protection measures or how she would lead the highly controversial CFPB, Warren and others sought to tie the nominee to the controversial domestic policies of the Trump administration.
“I’m going to ask you again, under oath, were you involved in any way in developing or implementing the policies that led this administration to take thousands of children away from their families at the border?” Warren asked.
“Senator, I had no role in setting the policy — ” Kraninger said, before Warren interrupted to say that she asked about “developing” or “implementing” the policies.
Based on Kraninger’s answers to similar questions from Senate Banking Committee ranking Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown, her role was less about policy and more about funding. “Generally, the Office of Management and Budget supports those agencies in analyzing the need and looking at the appropriations law,” Kraninger said.
Brown called that a “non-answer.”
The OMB’s mission is not typically to set policies beyond government spending, but as the central budget office for the administration, policy matters conceivably arise in discussions of how to pay for departmental programs.
Kraninger said she had meetings with DHS and Justice Department officials about what resources they needed, but in terms of specifics, she said “it would be chilling to the deliberative process to get into the details” of the discussions around the budget.
During Warren’s questioning, Kraninger reiterated that she had no role developing the policies, but struggled to give Warren a satisfactory answer about implementing the policies. “I will remind you that you are under oath, and lying to Congress is a crime,” Warren said at one point.
Kraninger’s portfolio at the OMB included the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, two of the agencies “most responsible” for designing the policies that led to family separations at the border, according to Warren.
Earlier in the hearing Kraninger said it was not her job to develop the policies, which has become a flashpoint for anti-Trump criticism, but was involved in assisting the various agencies in developing funding requests for Congress.
“It’s difficult to separate the advice — I will not characterize the advice I gave” to those agencies, Kraninger said. Warren went on to say that the DHS has not identified the parents of 71 children who have been separated from their families, and asked whether Kraninger had worked with DHS to develop a family reunification policy.
“It becomes a slippery slope in terms of characterizing the advise that was provided or the questions that were raised,” Kraninger said.
“You don’t want to characterize because you don’t want to admit that you had something to do with it,” Warren said.
Finally, Warren described the zero-tolerance policy in the words of White House chief of staff John Kelly, who said that the harsh policy was meant to act as a deterrent for families crossing the border illegally, and asked whether Kraninger found the policy immoral.
Kraninger initially said that there were many heartbreaking stories in the news every day, and when Warren pushed for a yes or no, Kraninger said “Senator, it is not appropriate to provide my personal opinion and internal deliberations on this matter.”
“Even President Trump, when he signed the executive ending family separation, said, ‘I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.’ But you can’t have an opinion on this?” Warren said.
“It is fundamentally immoral and you, you were a part of it Mrs. Kraninger. It is a moral stain that will follow you for the rest of your life. And if the Senate votes to give a big promotion to you after this, then it is a stain on the senators who do so,” Warren concluded.
Warren and former CFPB director Richard Cordray were “determined to turn the confirmation process into a bitter and partisan political game; refusing once again to relinquish their grip on an agency that they believe ‘belongs’ to them,” Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state and member of Trump’s transition team, said in a statement.
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