Maxine Waters Softens Tone and Vows to Protect Bankers' Interests

4798 OVER her 22 years in Congress, Maxine Waters has likened bank executives to "gangsters," snarkily addressed them as "captains of the universe" and threatened to tax their companies "out of business."

Representative Maxine Waters meeting with community bankers in Torrance, Calif., which lies in her House district.
The Democrat from Los Angeles, in other words, is not known for showing love to the financial industry.

So in March, when she visited a group of community bankers in a conservative corner of her district, she seemed ready for a chilly reception. "Let's see what these guys have to say for themselves," Ms. Waters said with a smirk as she emerged from her S.U.V.

Escorted to a private conference room at Malaga Bank, Ms. Waters grabbed a seat at the head of the table. A dozen or so bankers shuffled in, each armed with a tale of woe about the Dodd-Frank banking overhaul passed by Congress in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

The law is too tough, they groaned. Its capital requirements are too steep. One banker's voice quivered as she described a regulatory examination of her bank. Another griped about regulators overstepping their bounds: "They can tell you how many pens and pencils we have in our drawers!"

In the past, such grumbling might have set off Ms. Waters's famous hair-trigger temper. But with each complaint, she leaned in for more, nodding appreciatively. "We've heard they chase down silly stuff," Ms. Waters said, referring to regulators and shaking her head in disapproval. "I'm willing to take a hit" to help lower the capital requirements, she said. She even suggested the bankers hire new lobbyists to better represent them. "Influence us," Ms. Waters said softly, reminding them of her new role as the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. "Help us understand the intricacies of your business."

This was not "kerosene Maxine," the nickname Ms. Waters has earned for her tendency to hurl flammable remarks. (Exhibit A: She once screamed onstage in Los Angeles that "The Tea Party can go straight to hell, and I intend to help them get there.") Rather, she was all empathy, vowing to use her new sway in Washington to protect the bankers' interests. "You have a lot of good will right now," she said. As for Dodd-Frank, Ms. Waters said she stood ready to defend the law, but also instructed the bankers to compile a "laundry list" of their concerns. "I don't want you to look at this as being impossible to tweak," she said.

After an hour of swiveling nervously in their chairs, the bankers broke into grins. One executive slapped Ms. Waters a high-five. Another embraced her.

"You've softened," Paul C. Hudson, the chairman of Broadway Federal Bank, teased Ms. Waters. "I love the new Maxine."

The New Maxine was born in part from Ms. Waters's ascension, in January, on the House Financial Services Committee. Exonerated in September at the end of a three-year ethics investigation, she replaced Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, for whom the banking overhaul bill was named.

The influential Financial Services Committee oversees community banks and Wall Street alike. And Ms. Waters has softened somewhat, not just toward local bankers in her district who might expect her ear, but also toward the Wall Street C.E.O.'s she formerly reviled.

In recent months, she dined with John Stumpf, the C.E.O. of Wells Fargo, and met Wall Street chief executives like Michael L. Corbat of Citigroup and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. It's what she called "an open-door policy." Most notably, given her penchant for railing against Wall Street abuses, she recently pushed regulators to delay certain rule changes on high-stakes derivatives trading. The regulators ultimately agreed.

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Source: The New York Times | Ben Protess
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