The Senate confirmed Martin Gruenberg to a six-year term as Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) chairman Monday with a 45-39 vote.
The move effectively puts to rest the partisan struggle within the agency that erupted last December, when Gruenberg and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Rohit Chopra, both serving as members of the FDIC’s board, published (on the CFPB website) a review of bank merger policies without the approval of the FDIC’s then-chair, Jelena McWilliams.
McWilliams, a Republican, argued that only the chair controls the FDIC board’s agenda. Gruenberg and Chopra said a majority of directors also possesses that right.
Republican lawmakers at the time alternately called the December 2021 dust-up a “power grab” and a “failed, publicity-seeking attempted coup” — and many rehashed the incident during Gruenberg’s nomination hearing last month.
“You can’t unring that bell, so I have great concerns about how the FDIC will operate in the future,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, said at the hearing.
McWilliams ultimately resigned Dec. 31, and President Joe Biden named Gruenberg the FDIC’s acting chair in February.
Gruenberg is no stranger to leading the agency. He served as the FDIC’s chair from 2012 to 2018 and has been on the regulator’s board since 2005 — points that Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown, D-OH, emphasized Monday ahead of the vote.
"Since joining the FDIC board, Mr. Gruenberg has served as chairperson, vice chairperson, acting chairperson and member," Brown said. “I have served on the Banking Committee since 2007. I do not remember any FDIC nominee having come before the committee with that level of expertise.”
The Senate on Monday also confirmed by voice vote two Republicans to serve on the FDIC board. Travis Hill, a former adviser to McWilliams will become the board’s vice chair. Jonathan McKernan, who once worked in the office of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PA, will sit on the board as a member.
Toomey, the Senate Banking Committee’s ranking member, limited his comments to the confirmed Republicans.
Hill’s “significant experience,” Toomey said, “will deepen the FDIC board's expertise and enhance the quality of its deliberations.”
Toomey said he knows “firsthand” that McKernan’s “knowledge of banking and housing finance issues will equip him well to serve on the FDIC board,” adding he is “confident that the agency will count both his thoughtful approach and his depth of knowledge as great assets.”
With the addition of Hill and McKernan, all five of the FDIC board’s seats will be occupied for the first time since 2015.
Since becoming acting chair in February, Gruenberg has "wasted no time getting to work for the American people," Brown said.
On his first day in office, Gruenberg rattled off a list of five priorities for 2022: the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA); climate change; the Bank Merger Act; crypto assets; and the Basel III capital rule.
The agency unveiled guidance in March to help banks navigate climate-related risk; proposed crypto guidance in April; and contributed to a multiagency refresh of the CRA in May.