WASHINGTON – On a warm March morning, a group of protesters bearing sharks gathered in front of the Democratic National Committee headquarters, a few blocks south of the Capitol.
The sharks were of the inflatable kind, and the protesters wore shark hats and carried mock “Sharknado” movie posters. But the crowd had not gathered to rally against shark hunting or bad films. They had instead come to voice their displeasure with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chair of the DNC.
Wasserman Schultz is under fire for co-sponsoring H.R. 4018, the Consumer Protection and Choice Act. The protesters gathered Wednesday to argue that the bill does the opposite.
The bill would prevent the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from regulating payday loans for the next two years. These loans, opponents claim, unfairly trap low-income borrowers in a cycle of high interest rates and increasing debt.
According to the Miami Herald, Wasserman Schultz received $31,250 from the payday lending industry in the 2014 election cycle.
The bill and Wasserman Schultz’s involvement have drawn interest from across the country. Last year, a letter signed by over 5,000 civil rights leaders, women’s groups, housing providers, consumer rights groups and faith-based organizations urged lawmakers not to pass the bill. The protesters on Wednesday had come from all over the country.
“This is a very important issue for the country, so we really wanted to get her attention,” said Jacob Swenson, who helped organize the protest and is the communications lead at National People’s Action.
The protesters took turns chanting and talking about how they were victimized by predatory loans.
After about 15 minutes, security guards moved the group off the steps and erected barricades. The protesters called for a member of Wasserman Schultz’s staff — the representative herself was not in the building — to come down and receive a letter of complaints. Instead, DNC National Press Secretary Mark Paustenbach came out. He spoke with several protesters and assured the group he would pass their grievances on to Wasserman Schultz.
Wasserman Schultz could not be reached for a comment, but her staff has defended the bill before. They claim that protection at the state level makes national oversight redundant, and cited congresswoman’s home state as an example.
“The Congresswoman … believes the Florida law is an example of how to achieve their shared goals of balancing strong consumer protections with preserving access to credit in underserved communities,” said her spokesman, Sean Bartlett, in a statement to the Huffington Post.
But opponent groups say the congresswoman’s claim is bunk. In a letter from last year, several organizations from around Florida say that the state has not done enough to protect its citizens from payday loans.
Reach reporter Luke Torrance at email@example.com or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Download photos: Shark-protest.zip