Elizabeth's Prepared Remarks: Better Markets Virtual Dodd-Frank Anniversary

It’s a real pleasure to be here this evening to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Act with Better Markets. The fallout from the one-two punch of the pandemic and Republican efforts to deregulate our financial institutions has put our economy in great danger, making your watchdog efforts more important than ever. Without the incredible work Better Markets has been doing for over a decade, we would be in a very different place right now, so thank you for all you are doing.

I’m especially grateful to mark this monumental achievement with President Obama, a man of courage and determination who embodies the very essence of moral leadership. I also want to thank Congresswoman Maxine Waters for her tireless leadership in Congress and across the country to protect and uplift the most vulnerable. 

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Ten years ago in the wake of the financial crisis, we were fighting to pass Dodd-Frank and create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Everyone here tonight knows what happened, but it’s important that we never forget what brought us to this fight.

Like so many of our nation’s problems, the financial crisis was a toxic mixture of racism, corruption and shameless greed. Predatory mortgage lenders started by targeting Black and Brown communities where they began clawing away at the hard-earned wealth of Black and Brown families. 

And too few people in power could be relied on to care…not the investors who were making money hand over fist, not the regulators who were cozy with the banks, not the pundits who blamed the borrowers, not the lenders who were boosting their profits—they didn’t care because it was only happening in certain communities—communities of color. 

Imagine living in a community that had to overcome decades of housing discrimination and legalized racism. Imagine a community where homeownership opportunities were increasing, and more people were starting—starting—to get their piece of the American dream. Imagine young people starting out, sometimes working two jobs to buy a home. Imagine working your entire life and building a solid retirement. Think about the power and pride you’d feel knowing that your work had earned you a measure of security and something to pass on to your children and your grandchildren. Now imagine having it stolen from you, with no way to get back the life you thought you were building. 

That’s what the Great Recession felt like for so many working families. At its core, the financial crisis was a massive theft of power from millions of Americans. A massive theft of the American dream. 

In the crash of 2008, millions of people lost their jobs, millions lost their homes, and millions lost their savings. And maybe one of the most galling parts was that the Wall Street megabanks whose recklessness helped crash the economy weren’t ashamed. Nope. Just the opposite. They took taxpayer handouts, then they doubled down with armies of lobbyists and lawyers, trolling the halls of Capitol Hill spending a million dollars a day to bury Dodd-Frank and kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before it was ever signed into law.

The pundits all thought we would lose that fight. After all, the big banks had all the money in the world. But we had the people. And we got organized. Advocates jumped in, including unions and consumer groups whose first mission was not consumer credit.

Individuals who had never been in politics (including me) were suddenly knee deep in working on plans to get us out of the crisis. We were blessed to have great leadership in the White House, with President Obama standing firm even when some Democratic advisers were telling him to throw the agency overboard. But President Obama didn’t fight alone. Vice President Joe Biden fought alongside him. He worked at it, calling on his relationships in Congress to help get a workable bill and pull it across the finish line. And we did it. With his help and so many others, we made it through the Senate without a single vote to spare.

Think about that. It was a David versus Goliath moment. Even when the banks spent hundreds of millions of lobbying dollars, we won. For once, American families beat back the big banks.

It was a critical moment for our economy, a moment to decide what kind of rules of the road we would have to protect families and prevent another crash. It was also a critical moment for our democracy. After years and years of Wall Street running wild and calling all the shots, people could now plainly see that our elected leaders could and would act boldly on behalf of American families.

We built a watchdog capable of looking out for middle class families, a watchdog that could get rid of tricks and traps, a watchdog that could cut away reams of fine print that took away consumers’ rights, and a watchdog to hold financial institutions accountable when they break the law. 

On the day we won, Republicans and bank lobbyists declared that it was only half-time. They said they would continue their war against the CFPB—and their war against the American consumer. And they did. 

Legislation to eliminate the CFPB has been introduced in the House and the Senate in every single Congress since the agency was created in 2011. Republicans have engaged in one harebrained scheme after another to undermine the agency's leadership. And despite the agency’s track-record of non-partisan protection of consumers, and despite the agency’s popularity, Republicans have targeted the CFPB’s budget and sought to chop back its enforcement authority. 

But after years of industry attacks and GOP opposition, last month, the Supreme Court recognized what we knew all along: the CFPB and the law that created it are constitutional. The little agency is here to stay.

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Why have Republicans been so dead set against the CFPB? Why have they made repeal of the agency an act of faith? I think they are threatened by the CFPB. Deep down threatened. And here’s why.

Donald Trump and Republicans are scared of the CFPB because they are buddies with the Wall Street banksters that the CFPB stands up to.

Back in 2016, then-candidate Trump made big promises to drain the swamp, ignore the lobbyists, and stand up to Wall Street. He lied. 

In fact, even before he set foot in the Oval Office, he filled his Transition Team and incoming Administration with lobbyists, special interests and corporate insiders. As President, Trump has had so many bankers in his administration that Goldman Sachs could open up a new branch at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Donald Trump isn’t going to drain the swamp. Donald Trump lives in the swamp. The Republicans fight the CFPB because their lobbyist buddies, bank insiders and corporate donors don’t like it.

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But there’s another reason Donald Trump and Republicans are scared of the CFPB: The CFPB is a roadmap for structural change—big structural change.

The idea of a consumer agency was fairly simple—a watchdog whose sole purpose would be to bark back at the financial institutions that built their business models cheating American consumers. 

At the time of the 2008 crash, more than a dozen federal laws already addressed issues involving consumer credit, but the responsibility for enforcing these laws was spread out among seven different federal agencies—seven! 

And here’s what really kept me up at night. Each of those agencies could have shut down at least part of the scam, but they all had some other first job. Not a single one of those agencies had as its primary job protecting consumers from dangerous credit products. Not one. 

The division of responsibility meant that credit regulation was a mess, it was an afterthought, and enforcement of the rules was spotty at best. We needed an agency—one agency—that would be responsible for making structural changes to the rules, for changing those rules as lenders changed their practices, and for enforcing the rules. One agency that we could hold responsible when things went wrong.

Together we bent the levers of power in Washington to benefit working families over the wealthy and well-connected. We demonstrated a model that can be used to rewrite the rules of power all across our broken systems, a model for change that would work from our economy to our democracy to our public safety and justice system. 

Donald Trump and Republicans really can’t stand Dodd-Frank and the CFPB because it shows that government can be a powerful force for good. Under the faithful and persistent leadership of Rich Cordray, the American people witnessed what’s possible when government is designed to protect and serve the people. 

In nine years of operation, the CFPB has delivered for American consumers:

  • It has helped more than 26 million Americans directly

  • It has forced banks and financial institutions to return more than $12b directly to people they cheated

  • It has handled more than 2.2 million complaints.

  • It has put in place commonsense protections for American servicemembers and vets

  • And, the part we can never quite measure, is that over the past decade, millions of people have not been cheated because some financial outfit with a sleazy idea looked around and realized there was a watchdog that would bite.

The creation of the CFPB teaches us that we can make government work, not just for the wealthy and well-connected, but we can make it work for everyone. 

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Celebrations like this should happen more often. For almost a century, Democrats have fought for a government that works for everyone. And we’ve made some remarkable progress.

  • Social Security

  • The Minimum Wage

  • Medicare

  • Unemployment insurance

  • Auto safety

  • The right to join a union

  • FHA and the 30-year mortgage

  • The end of child labor

  • The 40 hour work week

  • Health insurance through the ACA exchanges for millions of Americans

And, in 2010, we added the CFPB to the list of innovations that increased economic security and physical safety for hundreds of millions of people. We haven’t yet created a perfect union, but we have created more opportunity and more security for Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, where they were born, who they love, or how they worship. 

And where were the Republicans during all of this? They were doing what they have done best for the better part of a century: They were saying no:

  • Expand Social Security? Republicans said no! 

  • Raising the minimum wage? They said no way!

  • The right to join a union? Republicans said you don’t have one!

  • FHA and the 30-year mortgage?—They said no!

  • The end of child labor—Republicans said “no, that’s socialism!”

  • The 40 hour work week—Republicans opposed it!

  • Health care coverage for people with preexisting conditions?  —Republicans said hell no! And they’re still fighting that one in the courts today. 

No. No. No.

When it comes to the well-being of the American people, the Republican Party has consistently been The Party of No! The Republicans have chosen service to their corporate buddies and donors over service to the American people. The CFPB is just the latest, biggest structural addition to a long line of democratic innovations that help make America a stronger, fairer country—a long line of changes that have been brought into existence over the loud and incessant objections of the Republicans. 

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We are here tonight in remembrance of a brave and hard-fought and creative response to the 2008 crisis. But there’s more. We are here tonight to celebrate how we have stood with our intellectual and political forbearers to use government as a force for good. 

We have much work ahead of us, and the path will be difficult. Much of the time we will be fighting the Republicans and their wealthy donors, the Party of No.

But we will fight on because we know the America we are fighting for. 

An America where decisions in Washington are made with compassion, commonsense, and moral clarity.

An America where a run in with law enforcement or a turn down the wrong street corner doesn’t cost someone their life because of the color of their skin.

An America where every working person—regardless of race, sex, or economic background—is paid a living wage.

That’s the America we will create together when we beat Donald Trump, elect Joe Biden, and put Democrats in positions to make change in 2021.

We know this will not be an easy fight. But we don’t take on this fight because it’s easy. Nothing important ever is. We take on this fight because it’s right! And if we stand together, if we fight together, if we persist together, we can build an America that works better for all of our families.