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On March 17, the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed its amicus brief in the D.C. Circuit’s en banc review of the CFPB’s enforcement action against PHH Corporation for alleged violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”). In October 2016, a panel of the D.C. Circuit concluded that the CFPB misinterpreted RESPA and that its single-Director structure violated the constitutional separation of powers. The DOJ brief states that, “[w]hile we do not agree with all of the reasoning in the panel’s opinion,” the DOJ agrees with the panel’s conclusion that “a removal restriction for the Director of the CFPB is an unwarranted limitation on the President’s executive power” and that “the panel correctly concluded … that the proposed remedy for the constitutional violation is to sever the provision limiting the President’s authority to remove the CFPB’s Director, not to declare the entire agency and its operations unconstitutional.”
Like the brief filed in this case by the Obama Administration DOJ before the change in administration, the current DOJ brief states that “[t]he United States takes no position on the statutory issues in this case, but in the event that the ultimate resolution of those issues results in vacatur of the CFPB’s order [against PHH], it is within this Court’s discretion to avoid ruling on the constitutional question.” However, the brief goes on to state that, because the issue is already before the en banc court and the “question is likely to recut in pending and future cases, it would be appropriate for the Court to provide needed clarity by exercising its discretion to resolve the separation-of-powers issue now.”
White House Calls for “Regulatory Reform Task Forces”; OMB Sends Guidance Memorandum to Heads of Departments and Agencies
On February 24, President Trump signed an Executive Order directing the “head of each agency” to establish a “Regulatory Reform Task Force,” led by a designated “Regulatory Reform Officer,” who is responsible for reviewing existing regulations and making “recommendations to the agency head regarding their repeal, replacement, or modification.” Specifically, the Regulatory Reform Task Forces are charged with identifying regulations that: (i) “eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation”; (ii) are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective; (iii) “impose costs that exceed benefits”; (iv) create a “serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory reform initiatives and policies”; (v) are inconsistent with OMB’s “Information Quality Guidelines”; or (vi) implement Executive Orders or Presidential directives that have been repealed or substantially modified.
Among other things, the Order instructs the OMB Director to issue guidance outlining requirements for the incorporation of regulatory reform “performance indicators” into agencies’ annual performance plans and potentially “address[ing] how agencies not otherwise covered under this subsection should be held accountable for compliance with this order. The Order requires that the task forces solicit input from “entities significantly affected by Federal regulations, including state, local, and tribal governments, small businesses, consumers, non-governmental organizations, and trade associations,” and submit a report to the agency head within 90 days.
Thereafter, on February 28, recently-confirmed Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Mick Mulvaney released a memorandum and attachment for the heads of all offices in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and Executive agencies, which summarizes the major elements of the legislative clearance function that the OMB, working with other offices, carries out on behalf of the President. The memorandum (OMB Circular No. A-19) details the requirements and procedures for legislative coordination and clearance, while the attachment summarizes the major elements and the essential purposes of the clearance process.
Among other things, the memorandum recommends that, in supporting the “President’s Program,” agencies within the Administration should: (i) submit to Congress legislative proposals needed to carry out the President’s Program; (ii) convey the Administration’s views on legislation that Congress has under consideration; and (iii) recommend approval or disapproval of bills passed by Congress. According to the memorandum, the primary goals of the clearance process are twofold: (i) to ensure that an agencies’ legislative communications with Congress are consistent with the President’s policies and objectives; and (ii) to allow for the Administration to “speak with one voice” regarding legislation.
On February 3, President Trump issued an Executive Memorandum directing the Department of Labor (DOL) to examine the Fiduciary Rule—an April 2016 DOL rule that expands the circumstances in which a person will be treated as a fiduciary under both ERISA and Section 4975 of the Internal Revenue Code by reason of providing investment advice to retirement plans and IRAs. In the memorandum, President Trump calls for an examination of the Fiduciary Rule to determine whether it (i) has harmed or is likely to harm investors; (ii) has resulted in dislocations or disruptions within the retirement services industry; and (iii) is likely to cause an increase in litigation and an increase in the prices that investors and retirees must pay to gain access to retirement services. If the Secretary of Labor makes any of these findings, the memorandum directs the Secretary of Labor to publish a proposed rule rescinding or revising the Fiduciary Rule. Initial compliance with the Fiduciary Rule is currently required by April 10, but the DOL has announced that it “will now consider its legal options to delay the applicability date as we comply with the President’s memorandum.”
On January 20, Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff to President Trump, issued a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies initiating a regulatory review to be headed by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”). Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) has been nominated to fill that position.
On behalf of the President, the memorandum asks the following of the agency and department heads:
- No new regulations: “[S]end no regulation to the Office of the Federal Register (the ‘OFR’) until a department or agency head appointed or designated by the President after noon on January 20, 2017, reviews and approves the regulation.”
- Withdraw final but unpublished regulations: “With respect to regulations that have been sent to the OFR but not published in the Federal Register, immediately withdraw them from the OFR for review and approval.”
- Delay the effective date of published but not yet effective regulations: “With respect to regulations that have been published in the OFR but have not taken effect, as permitted by applicable law, temporarily postpone their effective date for 60 days from the date of this memorandum” and consider notice and comment to further delay the effective date or to address “questions of fact, law, or policy.” Following the delay, regulations that “raise no substantial questions of law or policy” would be allowed to take effect. For those regulations that do raise such questions, the agency or department “should notify the OMB Director and take further appropriate action in consultation with the OMB Director.”
Rulemakings subject to statutory or judicial deadlines are exempt, and the OMB Director has the authority to grant further exemptions for “emergency situations or other urgent circumstances relating to health, safety, financial, or national security matters, or otherwise.”
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If you have questions about the “freeze” or other related issues, visit our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau practice for more information, or contact a BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On January 23, the Attorneys General of 16 states and the District of Columbia (the State Attorneys General) filed a motion requesting the permission of the D.C. Circuit to intervene in the CFPB’s petition for en banc reconsideration in PHH Corp. v. CFPB. In the motion, the State Attorneys General argue that they have a vital interest in the matter because the October 2016 panel decision subjecting the CFPB Director to “at will” removal by the President “threatens to undermine the ability of the State Attorneys General [to work with the CFPB] to bring effective civil enforcement and coordinated regulatory actions free from political influence and interference.”
Noting the possibility that President Trump may seek to remove CFPB Director Cordray before the petition for rehearing is resolved or refuse to pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court if the panel decision stands, the State Attorneys General raise the concern that “[t]he incoming administration … may not continue an effective defense of the statutory for-cause protection of the CFPB director.” Therefore, because “[a] significant probability exists that the pending petition for rehearing will be withdrawn, or the case otherwise rendered moot,” the State Attorneys General argue that the D.C. Circuit should allow them to intervene to protect their interests.
In addition to the District of Columbia, the motion was filed on behalf of the Attorneys General for the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The filing of the motion was announced by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, whose office prepared the initial draft.
On January 13, the FTC announced that Chairwoman Edith Ramirez will be stepping down effective February 10. Chairwoman Ramirez was appointed by President Barack Obama and has served as a commissioner since April 2010. She became chairwoman in March 2013, after former FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz resigned. Her departure means that President-elect Donald Trump will have the chance to fill three vacancies at the agency.
On December 16, President Obama signed into law H.R. 3784, the SEC Small Business Advocate Act of 2016. The legislation, which had broad bipartisan support in the House and Senate, establishes (within the SEC) an Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation and a Small Business Capital Formation Advisory Committee. Both the Office of the Advocate and the Advisory Committee will be tasked with the dual role of helping small businesses navigate the securities laws and advocate against the application of overly burdensome regulations to small businesses. The small-business advocate is modeled after the SEC’s office of the investor advocate, which was created under the Dodd-Frank Act as a voice for investors.
On December 8, Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, which now awaits President Obama's signature. Championed by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, the bill gives the President of the United States the authority to deny human rights abusers and corrupt officials entry into the United States or access to our financial institutions. The bipartisan legislation builds on the Russia-specific Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2013 to apply sanctions globally, and makes significant acts of corruption sanctionable offenses.
On December 1, the U.S. Senate, by a 99-0 margin, passed a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) sending the measure to the White House and delaying any potentially tougher actions until next year. Originally approved in 1996, the extended bill passed onto the Senate in November with only one vote against it from the House. Congressional authority to enforce sanctions against Iran—which was due to expire on December 31 if not renewed—will be presented to President Barack Obama, who will decide whether to sign the bill into law in the coming days.
On November 18, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he has chosen Sen. Jefferson Sessions (R-Ala.), to become the next U.S. Attorney General. Sessions served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama for 12 years and was the state's attorney general for two years. Trump also announced his intent to nominate U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) as Director of the CIA and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.