Waters' priorities: Thwarting Trump, shielding consumers, housing

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WASHINGTON — In her first comments since Democrats won control of the House, the expected incoming chair of the Financial Services Committee took a hard line against the Trump administration and pledged to protect "consumers and investors from abusive financial practices." But she also committed to "hearing a range of views" if chosen to run the panel.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., now the ranking member, resumed her tough criticism of the White House in a statement released late Wednesday, calling out congressional Republicans she says have deferred too easily to the president.

“For the last two years, Republicans in Congress have served as accomplices to Trump and have completely neglected Congress’ oversight responsibilities, enabling corruption and destructive policies to run rampant,” Waters said. “It is critical that we bring accountability to the Trump Administration and the regulatory agencies under the Committee's jurisdiction.”

But she also reiterated that she plans to "maintain an open-door policy, to hear the perspectives and concerns of all stakeholders, including representatives of the financial services industry, as well as groups that represent America’s consumers and investors."

Waters said the committee under her leadership would focus on consumer protection issues.

“That includes ensuring that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can be allowed to resume its essential role of protecting consumers from harmful practices without interference from the Trump Administration."

In addition to protecting consumers, Waters said if selected to hold the gavel she will "prioritize ... making sure that there are strong safeguards in place to prevent another financial crisis, expanding and supporting affordable housing opportunities and tackling the homelessness crisis."

Observers have expected a Waters-led committee to target acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick Mulvaney on his efforts to scale back the agency’s enforcement efforts. Many have also predicted she will probe firms such as Deutsche Bank on their ties to Trump as well as Wells Fargo over scandals that have hit the bank in recent years.

But the longtime legislator is also expected to focus on policy areas such as affordable housing. In an interview with the Bloomberg Television network, Waters pointed to a shortage of affordable housing options as a significant economic risk.

“I think we have a big risk in the economy if we don’t understand the housing crisis that we’re in,” Waters said.

Outgoing House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, told Bloomberg earlier in the week that he thinks Waters could amp up subpoenas for Trump’s regulators and bank executives.

“As chairman, I have used the power of subpoena a little over once, maybe one a month,” Hensarling said. “My guess is she may be using five or six a day.”

But Waters says she is willing to work with Republicans on the committee to ensure that small businesses are able to access capital.

“I have worked with the opposite side on a number of issues,” Waters said in the Bloomberg interview. “I believe in small businesses, I believe in creating opportunities for access to capital. ... I think we must strengthen small businesses. Small businesses create jobs.”

Waters co-sponsored a capital markets package with Hensarling that passed the House with more than 400 votes in July, which included some banking provisions. The Senate has yet to hold a floor vote on it.

The prospects for housing finance reform are less clear. Some Democrats on the committee struck a deal with Hensarling on housing finance reform in September. But Waters did not support their bill.

Another key role of the House Financial Services Committee is oversight of the Federal Reserve. The chairman of the Federal Reserve testifies to the committee twice annually and other members of the board, including Randal Quarles, the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, are often called to testify before the committee.

President Trump nominated Fed Chair Jerome Powell but has criticized the central bank chief's interest rate policies. Waters said the Fed should remain independent.

“The president should not interfere with the Federal Reserve,” Waters told Bloomberg. “He should leave [Powell] alone and let them do their work.”

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