As bank chief executives left the White House Friday after a roughly 90-minute meeting with President Obama, they presented a united front to the media horde outside.
But inside the meeting, which was held in the state dining room, it was clear the CEOs took different approaches. The bluntest was from Ken Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America Corp.
"Mr. President, I am not going to suck up to Larry and Tim like the rest of these guys," Lewis said, according to sources in the meeting. Lewis was referring to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and Lawrence Summers, the head of the National Economic Council, who also attended.
Obama laughed along with the rest of the CEOs, before listening to Lewis get to his point: he wants to pay back Troubled Asset Relief Program funds.
And he was not the only one.
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., arrived with check in hand to give to Geithner before the meeting started, according to the participant. Geithner took the check briefly to examine it before handing it back. (The check was fake).
Dimon tried again later during the meeting, telling the president he would like to give back his $25 billion in Tarp money.
The overall tone of the meeting was cordial, participants said, with no raised voices or significant tension. Obama's message was essentially one of mutual dependence: we need you, and you need us.
"My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks," Obama said.
Still, Lewis complained that all institutions were being tarred with the same brush, saying policymakers should better distinguish between commercial bankers and investment bankers.
But Obama had a rejoinder to that, saying the industry essentially brought that problem upon itself. He offered to call Sen. Byron Dorgan and ask him to re-establish the Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed a decade ago. The law put barriers between commercial and investment banks.
Obama spent much of the meeting making a pitch for his priorities, emphasizing his plan for regulatory reform, including the creation of a systemic risk regulator, and asking banks to ensure they are dialing back on executive compensation. He wanted bankers to recognize that such practices had gotten out of hand.
For their part, bankers wanted more details on a plan to buy toxic assets, saying such details needed to come quickly if the program is to work. Obama asked at least one banker if he was willing to sell toxic assets, and received a positive reply, pending further information.
Other bankers emphasized that the Obama administration needed to slow down. To date, the government has about 20 different programs in place, and bankers sought breathing room for some of these plans to begin working before further ones were announced.
In addition to Dimon, Lewis and Fine, other banking industry representatives at the meeting were Vikram Pandit of Citigroup Inc., John Stumpf of Wells Fargo & Co., Ken Chenault of American Express Co., John Koskinen of Freddie Mac, Ronald Logue of State Street Corp., Robert Kelly of Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Rick Waddell of Northern Trust Corp., James Rohr of PNC Financial Services Group Inc., Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, John Mack of Morgan Stanley, Richard Davis of U.S. Bancorp, Camden Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, and Ed Yingling of the American Bankers Association.