Waters’ clashes with Trump just the beginning

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The uninitiated may consider the House Financial Services Committee home to dry talk about leverage ratios, deposit insurance and mortgage rates.

But starting next year, the banking panel could find itself at the center of the national political debate.

That’s because Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., an outspoken critic of President Trump, is slated to take over as chairman of the panel if Democrats take back the House, as they are currently favored to do.

What that means for the meat-and-potatoes policy issues bankers care about is unclear, though Waters is likely to reserve at least some time for her longtime calls to toughen up rules on the big banks — and even break them up.

A political changeover in the House would obviously have a big impact on the committee’s priorities regardless of who runs the panel. If Republicans retain the Senate while Democrats win the House, it’s likely to result in gridlock for any substantial legislative issues, which would push lawmakers toward a focus on messaging.

But given Waters’ increasingly vocal concerns about the White House’s policies, and her calls for the president to be impeached, her rise to the head of the banking panel would give her an even bigger platform to voice her criticism.

The California Democrat’s latest dust-up with the administration this week — in which she called on supporters to confront top officials when they are spotted in public, with Trump soon firing back — simply underscores the potential for fights ahead.

The events “serve to reinforce what has been the broad-based belief that Chair Waters will use the gavel to advance the broader political debate,” said Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point Research & Trading.

Some of those battles might even stem from within the Democratic Party itself: The congresswoman’s comments this week appear to have earned her a rebuke from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Brian Gardner, director of Washington research at KBW, said that he expects a Waters-led panel to focus on oversight activities, everything from examinations of Russia sanctions to Trump-led changes at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to ongoing problems at Wells Fargo.

“She is going to be trying to motivate and galvanize the Democratic base ahead of the 2020 elections,” he said. “These matters are oversight matters and investigatory matters, and they will divert time and resources away from policy matters.”

Waters insists that won’t be the case. In a statement, she said she would be focused on helping small businesses to thrive while protecting consumers and making sure safeguards are in place to prevent another crisis.

“I look forward to continuing to work with members both sides of the aisle on sensible solutions to benefit hardworking Americans and strengthen our nation’s economy,” she said.

But if she gets the gavel to the committee, at the very least she could take a closer look at the Trump family’s ties to the financial industry, including Citibank and Deutsche Bank, among other areas of focus, as well as money-laundering allegations involving Trump associates.

What this ultimately means for the banking industry at large is yet unclear — though it’s extremely unlikely to result in tangible policy changes.

“The House Financial Services Committee will be a headline-generation machine in the next Congress,” Boltansky said.

Banks should get ready.

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Maxine Waters House Financial Services Committee