Leandra English, Who Pretended to Run CFPB, Leads Biden CFPB Transition

Biden taps bevy of Obama alums for review of controversial financial agency

Leandra English
Leandra English / Getty Images
November 11, 2020

Leandra English, who spent months trying to seize control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) from President Donald Trump, will lead Joe Biden's transition team for the agency, the Biden campaign announced Tuesday.

English will be in charge of a team of seven others, including the legislative director for the United Autoworkers and six alums of the Obama-era CFPB. The group will advise the Biden campaign on taking over the agency when Biden assumes office in January.

English rose to public attention in 2017, when she claimed the role of acting CFPB director following the departure of Obama-era director Richard Cordray, in direct contention with Trump appointee Mick Mulvaney. In the ensuing months, English lost multiple court battles but continued her claim despite a lack of clarity on what, if anything, she was actually doing day-to-day. This stance made her a hero of the anti-Trump "resistance," with even Democratic leadership calling her the "rightful acting director."

English's appearance on the CFPB, therefore, is a harsh rebuttal to the Trump administration's regulatory agenda. Her appearance on the transition team—along with other Obama alums—indicates that a Biden-era CFPB will return to the aggressive regulatory posture adopted during the Obama administration.

English's protracted battle for control of the CFPB began when Cordray, inspired by two left-wing blog posts, appointed her as acting director just before the end of his term. When Trump appointed Mulvaney, English launched a legal challenge, funded by a mysterious third party, with the goal of denying Trump control of the agency.

English spent the following seven months claiming to be the legitimate leader of the CFPB, bolstered by congressional Democrats who ignored multiple rulings against her claim. After numerous court losses, English finally departed the agency following Trump's nomination of current director Kathy Kraninger to fill the role full time.

English and Cordray's extended legal fight represents the left's desire to retain control of the CFPB. The agency was the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), whose protégé is English. But conservatives have long decried its mission and legal structure, which they argue violate the Constitution by denying the president exclusive oversight and creating an illegal fourth branch of government.

In addition to English, many of the same people who staffed Cordray and Obama's CFPB are now advising Biden's transition. These include former CIO Ashwin Vasan, consumer advisory board chair Bill Bynum, spokesman David Mayorga, counsel and adviser Brian Shearer, office of regulations boss and current Open Society fellow Diane Thompson, and former CFPB enforcement attorney Manny Alvarez, current commissioner of the California Department of Business Oversight, who is thought to be in the running for comptroller of the currency.

A Biden CFPB, then, would look a lot like its Obama-era equivalent, an agency that Mulvaney said tried too hard to "push the envelope" and went "looking for excuses to bring lawsuits." It also pushed an "overreaching" regulatory agenda, Sens. Mike Lee (R., Utah) and Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) wrote in a letter seeking Cordray's firing, that denied credit access to millions of Americans.

During Cordray's tenure, the agency also faced numerous internal issues. These included hundreds of hacks exposing sensitive financial data, criticism for its $215 million office, and whistleblower charges of falsifying documents and a culture of "widespread racism and gender discrimination."