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U.S. Senate votes to confirm new consumer watchdog chief

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WASHINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to confirm as chief consumer watchdog Rohit Chopra, widely praised by progressives for long defending Americans from predatory financial firms and students from insurmountable debt often incurred through deceptive private loans.

Chopra, currently a Democratic member of the Federal Trade Commission, is expected to begin next week as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The agency will be key to President Joe Biden's administration as it tries to address social inequities underscored by the pandemic.

While Biden nominated Chopra earlier this year, the U.S. Senate, over which Democrats have a wafer thin majority, has been slow to confirm a number of agency heads due to Republican resistance.

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In the meantime, CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio has pushed ahead with an aggressive agenda, cracking down on mortgage servicers as Americans struggled during pandemic lockdowns. He also revoked Trump-era policies that had undermined the agency's ability to punish companies for "abusive" behavior, while stepping up enforcement against fintech firms.

As well as continuing to push these issues, Chopra is expected to focus on exorbitant lending rates and abusive debt-collection practices and address the student debt burden and gaps in minorities' access to credit.

The CFPB has been a political lightning rod since being created after the 2009 global financial crisis. Democrats hail it as a guardian of ordinary Americans but Republicans revile it as too powerful and unaccountable.

"The Trump administration attempted to turn the CFPB into an agency more interested in protecting loan sharks and predatory lenders than hardworking consumers," said Lisa Gilbert, a vice president of the Washington-based consumer advocacy, Public Citizen. "We welcome the return of an experienced consumer advocate to lead the agency and work on behalf of consumers."

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Reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio

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