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Democrats take aim at Mnuchin as confirmation hearing looms

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Borrowers who say OneWest Bank refused to help them when they struggled to pay their mortgages appeared Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where they urged the U.S. Senate to vote against confirming the bank's former chief executive, Steven Mnuchin, as Treasury Secretary.

The event, organized by Senate Democrats including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, featured a handful of OneWest borrowers who spoke about their personal experiences.

They included an 86-year-old woman who said the bank ordered her to pay off a reverse mortgage or get out of her house after her husband died, and a Nevada mother of two who lost her home in 2010 after she was unable to secure a loan modification.

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"Steve Mnuchin’s company had no interest in helping us," said the Nevada mother, Heather McCreary. "They wanted to foreclose because they were focused on their profits."

Mnuchin, whose confirmation hearing is Thursday, is the latest of President-elect Donald Trump's nominees to find himself in the crosshairs of Senate Democrats.

Democrats have seized on his financial career during the housing crisis, when he bought discounted assets of the failed California lender IndyMac Bank.

He rebranded it as OneWest Bank. The institution was later accused by housing advocacy groups and others of engaging in overly aggressive foreclosure tactics. Mnuchin is no longer with OneWest, which was sold to CIT Group.

Mnuchin is expected to respond directly to the allegations in his testimony on Thursday, according to a copy of his prepared remarks seen by Reuters.

"In the press it has been said that I ran a 'foreclosure machine,'" he plans to say.

"This is not true. On the contrary, I was committed to loan modifications intended to stop foreclosures."

Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate do not have the power alone to block Trump's nominees.

But that has not stopped them from trying to draw attention to their concerns.

One tactic has included holding informal hearings and inviting outside witnesses to testify - a method that was also used last week in an effort by Democrats to raise questions about Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder's record as chief executive of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Hardee's and Carl Jr.'s fast-food chains.

Puzder's confirmation hearing is slated for Feb. 2.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)