Let's hope Wells Fargo and Bank of America feel they got their money's worth out of Patrick McHenry. The Republican congressman from Cherryville, N.C., whose last campaign was largely funded by mega-banks and high-dollar accounting firms, walked boldly onto the national stage last week, and promptly made a national fool of himself. Maybe Wells Fargo and BofA thought McHenry would be an articulate, civil spokesman for their interests. What they got instead was more akin to a thug leading a goon squad.
Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor and consumer advocate who is directing the start of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, testified last week before a subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, which is chaired by McHenry. The "Cherryville Flash" spent his time during the hearing browbeating Warren and accusing her of lying about her role in settlement talks in Iowa between the government and mortgage servicing companies. McHenry was combative, petty and, to put it mildly, disrespectful. Warren, for her part, gave as good as she got, consistently denying McHenry's accusations, and explaining over and over that she had clearly reported two months ago that she had given advice in the Iowa talks. It was obvious to anyone and everyone that McHenry simply had his facts in a jumble, but, undaunted, he kept on carrying water for his corporate clients despite having had his bucket kicked out of his hand by Warren. Here's a sample of the kind of informative dialogue the hearing descended to:
McHenry asked Warren why she had been advising other government agencies, as mentioned earlier, and told her she hadn't been truthful in testimony earlier this spring about the extent of her involvement.
Warren replied: "When I was asked my advice, I gave it, and I was proud and enthusiastic to do it."
McHenry snapped back, "If you're so proud and enthusiastic about your advice, why didn't you express that before the committee?"
It went on like that, until finally another congressman, Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, came to Warren's defense. "I apologize for the rude and disrespectful comments of the chair," said Yarmuth. "People are afraid of you."
Later, McHenry called Warren a liar after she reminded him that she and the committee had an agreement that she would only testify for an hour (the meeting had been repeatedly delayed due to various Congress members not showing up). That outburst led to another scolding from another congressman who, in essence, told McHenry to get his act together and show some respect.
It's deeply ironic to hear McHenry accuse Warren of lying since, as R.J. Eskow wrote for the blog at OurFuture.org, the attack on the CFPB "has been nothing but a series of lies." McHenry & Co. say they're afraid that CFPB will have excessive power, but the truth is that Wall Street lobbyists successfully got their congressional minions, both Republicans and Democrats, to gut the agency before it starts — to the point that it will barely have enough power to even warn consumers of potential problems.
Warren, however, scares bankers to death, and McHenry is nothing if not subservient to bankers. Warren, though, is far from being some kind of business-killing shrew. All she's done so far is say that widespread forging of documents is a bad idea and someone should do something about it. She's also begun organizing a consumer protection bureau and is designing simpler mortgage loan applications. Banks, of course, hate the idea of a simpler application because it would "stifle innovation," i.e., would take away the various sneaky ways they can take advantage of customers. Obviously, from the banks' point of view, someone needs to stop Warren in her tracks.
That someone, at least last week, was McHenry, a congressman they knew they could count on to do their dirty work. After all, his top contributor in the last election was Wells Fargo (of drug money laundering fame), with nearly as generous piles of money coming from other economy-wreckers like Bank of America, the American Bankers Association, real estate interests, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the infamous accounting firm that looked the other way while AIG and Goldman Sachs sucked the economy dry.
Unfortunately for Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the rest of the gang, McHenry is not the guy you want when it's time to state your case on television. First, he's well-known as one of his party's attack dogs, dating from his early days in Congress when he became friends with former Majority Leader Tom DeLay. When DeLay once said that McHenry was a candidate to be "the next Tom DeLay," McHenry was beside himself, "blown away" by such a compliment. DeLay, of course, was one of the most crooked, despised legislative leaders in congressional history and is currently out on appeal, fighting a three-year prison sentence for corruption. McHenry also tends to get snippy when contradicted, and easily takes on the air of, as a friend succinctly put it, "some shithead junior high student picking on girls" — like when McHenry was part of a GOP media campaign to turn the 2006 Mark Foley/pages scandal to Republicans' advantage. McHenry went on TV at the time to denounce Democrats for supposedly leaking Foley's e-mails to the press. When a national newscaster asked McHenry if he had any proof of his charges, Lil' Pat answered angrily, "You can't prove they didn't do it."
McHenry's rude show last week, coming so soon after Rep. Paul Ryan's disastrous idea for phasing out Medicare, was just the latest example of what has become of the GOP. They no longer even pretend to be acting in the interests of anyone or anything other than their largest corporate buddies, led by Wall Street and big banks.
McHenry's tantrums and ridiculous tough-guy posturing would be funny if the whole thing wasn't so deadly serious. Here's a guy who is apparently fervent in his dedication to killing any new regulations that banks and Wall Street may have coming as a result of their grotesque greed festival that, we should be reminded every day, nearly tanked the world's economy. McHenry has finally turned into what he probably wanted to be all along: a corporate puppet who, with his current batch of friends, could be set for life.