Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren: Banking Frenemies
During a pivotal moment in Lin Manuel Miranda's award-winning Broadway musical "Hamilton," founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton engage in a rap battle over the establishment of a national bank and whether the U.S. government should assume the debts of the states. Hamilton makes his case for the proposal, while an uncompromising Jefferson opposes it. Following the lyrical debate, George Washington pulls aside an exasperated Hamilton and admonishes him, "Winning was easy, young man. Governing is harder."
As we count down to Election Day, most polls show Secretary Hillary Clinton clinging to a narrow lead over Donald Trump in the Electoral College. The Clinton campaign rightfully prides itself on a thorough treatment of most policy issues, despite media attention on the candidates' personal backgrounds. However, if Clinton wins on Tuesday and is sworn in on Jan. 20, she could soon face opposition from within her own party when implementing her policies, especially in the banking and economic sectors.
One such area of opposition could come by way of her political ally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It is no secret that Warren takes pride in taking on the big banks, earning the label as a "sheriff of Wall Street" in the Senate. Just before Congress recessed, Warren made headlines by calling out Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf in a Senate Banking Committee hearing. Candidate Clinton, on the other hand, has been less boisterous in expressing distaste for big banks, and some on the left even view her as too friendly towards Wall Street. Clinton's plan for reforming Wall Street includes strengthening Dodd-Frank, taxing high-frequency trading and increasing regulation of the "shadow banking" sector. But will these measures be enough to calm Warren and her allies in their crusade to overhaul regulation of the financial sector?
Warren is not afraid to point out those who fall short of her aggressive stance towards financial institutions. In her 2003 book, "The Two-Income Trap," Warren criticized then-Sen. Clinton for her vote on a 2001 bankruptcy bill. In her book, Warren noted that Clinton was more willing to stand up to Wall Street as first lady than as a New York senator. A more recent example is Warren's support for Glass-Steagall, which was enacted in 1933 to bar banks from participating in both commercial and investment banking. The act was repealed in 1999 by President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress, an action that Hillary Clinton has not since challenged. Instead, Clinton lays out plans to address "too big to fail" concerns by tightening up measures currently put in place by Dodd-Frank. Clinton has stated she believes Dodd-Frank did not go far enough in regulating the risks banks place on the financial system, but she has stopped short of endorsing reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.
Senate polls continue to shift daily, but if Democrats claim a Senate majority in the next Congress, Warren will enjoy a powerful position on the Senate Banking Committee, which will then likely be chaired by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Brown would likely use his leadership of the Banking Committee to keep a Clinton administration in check on international trade issues. Warren, on the other hand, would likely take the lead on pushing Clinton to the left on banking issues. With her powerful voice and populist following, Warren can insist that any legislation moving through the Banking Committee reflects her consumer-focused views. She can also block more industry-friendly bills passed by the House of Representatives, which will likely stay in Republican hands. The Senate will play its key role in confirming the next president's nominees, and Warren's supporters expect her to take a dim view of nominees with substantial Wall Street backgrounds.
We expect a Clinton administration, on the other hand, to take a more centrist approach towards dealing with banks. While Secretary Clinton has laid out a number of financial reform measures, she has also made comments that some bankers find more palatable. She has said she is willing to consider regulatory relief for smaller banks where appropriate, and that she will work with the industry where she can to push reasonable reforms.
While the banking industry and all of America has watched the Clinton-Trump battle with great interest, we will be focused on banking issues where a President Clinton and Senator Warren don't see eye to eye should Secretary Clinton win the election. While many bankers have hoped for a Republican-controlled House of Representatives to serve as a check on Clinton's policies, bankers may soon find themselves backing Clinton as a check on Senator Warren's attempts to continue to push for more regulation of the industry.
Jonathan Hightower is a partner in Bryan Cave's Financial Services practice. Dave Russell is a senior policy adviser in Bryan Cave's Public Policy group.