THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump’s war on financial elites and his draining of the swamp will gain a burst of new momentum Friday, as Trump is set to launch his first major steps toward deregulating Wall Street. The Post reports:
President Trump plans to order a rollback Friday of regulations governing the financial services industry and Wall Street under the Dodd-Frank law and beyond, a White House source confirmed.
Gary Cohn, White House Economic Council director, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published last night that the administration would also move against a regulation designed to force retirement advisers to work in the best interest of their clients, the “fiduciary rule,” set to take effect in April and designed to eliminate conflicts-of-interests among professionals dealing with those enrolled in qualified retirement plans and IRAs. …
The move, set for announcement at a White House meeting with business leaders, would be in line with Trump’s campaign pledge to “dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act and replace it with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation.”
Shockingly, the Trump White House’s version of getting tough on Wall Street is to deregulate it. As The Post’s account notes, Trump will try to gut Dodd-Frank by dismantling or modifying regulations where possible through executive action. Trump may also “tame” Dodd-Frank’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by replacing its current head — Richard Cordray — with someone who is less aggressive about “cracking down on big banks and corporations accused of misleading consumers.”
All of this sets the stage for a broader legislative push by Republicans and Trump to roll back Dodd-Frank. Populist! Take that, elites!
But this also gives Democrats an opportunity: It presents a new and very specific way for them to press the case against Trump for more transparency around his own holdings and the unprecedented welter of conflicts-of-interest — and possibilities for corruption — they may be creating. (Trump transferred control of his holdings to his two sons, but he retained ownership, meaning he did nothing meaningful to eliminate such conflicts.)
Here’s how. As ethics watchdogs have pointed out, the congressional GOP leadership’s total abdication of any meaningful oversight role on Trump means individual members of Congress — Democrats, or the occasional principled Republican who does want to exercise oversight — need to try to mount a stand where possible. They can do this by seizing on individual initiatives to demand transparency into how Trump’s holdings might be impacted by those initiatives — by calling for the release of his tax returns or demanding an accounting of those holdings.
Wall Street deregulation — whether via Trump executive actions right now or via the GOP legislation to come — provides a good hook to do this, ethics experts told me Friday.
Norm Eisen, the chief ethics officer in the Obama White House, noted that one potential area for demanding transparency might be “his debt to the banks he proposes to help.” Eisen added: “This effort to let big banks run wild was to be expected, given Mr. Trump’s own unresolved conflicts.”
Richard Painter, the chief ethics watchdog for President George W. Bush, noted that Friday’s news provides a hook to demand more disclosure from Trump about “the debt he or the corporations he controls have at the corporate level,” much of which is “not disclosed in financial disclosure reports.”
“He’s deregulating banks,” he told me. “We’re entitled to know about his relationship with banks — the very industry he’s deregulating.”
Painter added that these relationships might shed light on how Trump’s real estate holdings might be affected by such deregulation. “The deregulation of financial services will lead to more bank loans for real estate, driving up real estate prices,” Painter said. “Deregulation is likely to lead to a bubble in the real estate market, as it has in the past. That ups the value of his real estate holdings, which the Trump organization could then sell at the top of the market.”
Now, to be clear, the point here is not that Trump’s deregulatory initiatives should be judged as policy based on how they affect his holdings. They should be judged on their own merits, and I suspect that serious analysis of them will ultimately conclude that they put consumers at greater risk and make another financial crash more likely.
Rather, the point is that the public has the right to know how the president’s holdings might be affected by his policies irrespective of the merits or demerits of those policies — because this goes to the question of whose interests Trump is really looking out for. Even if you believe Trump when he says he’ll only look out for the people’s interests, Americans still have the right to know whether his holdings are being affected, and how, in order to judge his motives for themselves.
Of course, Trump will probably ignore any such calls for transparency, and congressional Republicans probably won’t care in the least, because Trump is likely to deliver on the huge tax cuts and deregulation they want. But the unique challenges of this moment require Democrats — and the occasional principled Republican — to find new and innovative ways of waging guerrilla ethics warfare designed to chip away at the opacity of Trump’s holdings, and the protective wall congressional GOP leaders have built around them, by drawing more and more public attention to this cozy little arrangement. Friday’s news is one place to start.
* EUROPEAN LEADERS INCREASINGLY WORRIED ABOUT TRUMP: The New York Times surveys the view from Europe, where there is mounting anxiety over Trump’s America-first-ism and seeming contempt for international institutions:
Hopes among European leaders that Mr. Trump’s bombastic tone as a candidate would somehow smooth into a more temperate one as commander in chief are dissipating, replaced by a mounting sense of anxiety and puzzlement. … Some European leaders are urging their counterparts to recognize that Mr. Trump may represent a truly dire challenge, one that threatens to upend not only the 70-year European project of integration and security, but just about everything they stand for, including liberal democracy itself.
Of course, this can always easily be justified by saying that 1) America will “no longer be taken advantage of”; and 2) Trump is being “unpredictable” and “disruptive.”
* REPUBLICANS STRUGGLE WITH OBAMACARE TALKING POINTS: The Post reports that some Republicans are increasingly inclined to say that they are going to “repair” Obamacare rather than “repeal and replace” it. And there’s yet a third option:
Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a key architect of GOP health-care plans, has favored yet another R-word in recent days: “rebuild.”
Bottom line: Republicans cannot create a replacement that will make both the broader public (who wants to keep major elements of the law) and conservatives (who want to obliterate it entirely) happy at the same time.
* TRUMP APPROVAL RATING AT RECORD LOW: A new CBS News poll finds that only 40 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s performance as president so far, versus 48 percent who disapprove. CBS notes that this is “the lowest of any president just after his first inauguration since the Gallup Poll began taking those measures in 1953.”
But Steve Bannon tells us there is a “vast and overwhelming majority of Americans” that is silently rooting for Trumpism to succeed.
* PUBLIC OPPOSES TRUMP IMMIGRATION MOVES: The new CBS News poll also finds that 51 percent oppose Trump’s executive order temporarily banning entry by migrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, versus only 45 percent who approve. Those numbers are identical (51 disapprove; 45 approve) on Trump’s temporary ban on refugees, too.
And this is a great little nugget: Only 36 percent agree that the ban on entry from majority-Muslim countries will make the U.S. safer from terrorism.
* TRUMP MAY NOT DELIVER ON BIG PROMISE TO RELIGIOUS RIGHT: Trump has been telling the religious right that he’ll “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prevents tax-exempt entities such as churches from engaging in politics. But McClatchy raises a good point: It’s highly probable that the votes will not be there in the Senate to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
Still, he’s delivering them the Supreme Court justice that they wanted, so that should do it — for awhile, at least.
* TRUMP IS ODDLY QUIET ABOUT MOSQUE ATTACK: Adam Taylor points out that Trump has tweeted constantly about terrorist attacks all over the world for years, but has said little to nothing about the attack that killed six in a Quebec City mosque:
On Trump’s famed social media accounts … the attack in Quebec City does not appear to have been mentioned at all…Trump…often quickly and clearly responded to terror attacks on foreign soil. … In almost every case, Trump was responding to an attack claimed by a militant Islamist group. … The attack in Quebec City does not appear to have been carried out by a Muslim or inspired by Islamic extremist ideology. In this case, the victims were Muslims.
Gosh, what could explain this?
* AND CONWAY INVENTS TERRORIST ATTACK TO JUSTIFY ‘MUSLIM BAN’: On MSNBC last night, Kellyanne Conway claimed that the Obama administration banned Iraqi refugees in 2011 and after there was a “massacre” in Bowling Green, Ky.
Zack Beauchamp sets the record straight, pointing out that, no, Obama did not ban refugees, and no, there was never a terrorist attack in Bowling Green. Other than that, though, Conway’s “alternative facts” are right on the money.