President Trump ignites political fight over US banking law reforms

WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday ordered reviews of major banking rules that were put in place after the 2008 financial crisis, drawing fire from Democrats who said his order lacked substance and squarely aligned him with Wall Street bankers.

Though the order was short on specifics, financial markets embraced Trump's signal that looser banking regulation is coming and pushed bank stocks higher. The Dow Jones U.S. Banks stocks index closed up 2.6 percent.

At a White House forum on Friday with U.S. business leaders, including JPMorgan Chase's CEO Jamie Dimon, Trump said his administration expects "to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank."

That will involve a lot more than issuing an order, said former Democratic congressman Barney Frank, co-author of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that raised capital requirements for banks, restricted their trading by means of the "Volcker Rule," and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to guard against predatory lending.

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Trump "can't make any substantial change in the financial reform bill without Congress," Frank told Reuters. "The language in the order doesn't do anything. It tells the secretary of the Treasury to give them something to read. The tone of it is to weaken the bill."

Trump and other critics of the Dodd-Frank law say its regulations have hindered lending. At the meeting with CEO's on Friday Trump said, "I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses that can't borrow money...because the banks just won't let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank."

Despite such criticisms, recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis showed U.S. commercial-bank lending at a 70-year high, climbing steadily since late-2010.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren who lobbied for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accused Trump of forsaking middle and lower-income individuals to help banks.

"The Wall Street bankers and lobbyists whose greed and recklessness nearly destroyed this country may be toasting each other with champagne, but the American people have not forgotten the 2008 financial crisis - and they will not forget what happened today," she said in a statement.

Trump's adviser leading the deregulation effort, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, was previously a top official at Goldman Sachs. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, meanwhile, is counseling Trump on regulation across the government.

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One order signed by Trump requires the U.S. Treasury Secretary to submit possible regulatory changes and legislation modifying Dodd-Frank in 120 days, according to a White House official.

Trump's pick for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, also a former Goldman banker, has yet to be confirmed by the full Senate.

Meanwhile, a memo tells the Labor Department to review a "fiduciary rule" for brokers offering retirement advice that was finalized in 2016. While early reports said Trump wanted to push off the rule's implementation, originally slated for April, by 180 days, the order did not mention any delay. The Labor Department late on Friday said it was considering legal options for delaying.

Representatives of the six largest U.S. banks - JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc , Wells Fargo & Co, Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley - either declined to comment or did not have an immediate comment.

BANKERS CAUTIOUS

Bankers, lawyers and lobbyists privately said Trump's order would not do much immediately. Also they said that they would prefer less-extensive modifications to Dodd-Frank after spending billions of dollars complying with the law.

Many want to make it "a little bit more user-friendly," said John Kanas, chairman of BankUnited, a lender with less than $20 billion in assets.

House of Representatives Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a Republican, told reporters at the White House that Trump's approach reflects legislation he has drafted to review Dodd-Frank. Hensarling is expected to re-introduce his bill allowing banks to choose between complying with Dodd-Frank and holding more capital later this month.

Trump could also make changes simply by appointing new personnel or not enforcing rules.

"A lot of the regulations of Dodd-Frank required a bit of a cop-on-the-beat if you will, to ensure enforcement and if you have a different cop-on-the-beat, they enforce different rules, or they enforce the rules differently," said FBR & CO financial policy analyst Edward Mills.

Many regulators, though, were appointed by Trump's predecessor, President Barack Obama, and intend to complete their terms. Trump cannot fire heads of independent agencies, including the three top bank regulators: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Chairman Martin Gruenberg.

In addition, the term for Richard Cordray, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director, stretches into next year. Republican lawmakers are pushing Trump to fire Cordray, but a federal court's decision allowing him to has been stayed pending appeal.

Meanwhile, some U.S. financial policy leaders want to keep the law. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said on Friday Dodd-Frank "has largely been helpful" and led to a banking system with "more and better capital." (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Lisa Lambert; additional reporting by Suzanne Barlyn, Ayesha Rascoe, Richa Naidu, Ann Saphir and Lauren Tara LaCapra; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Chizu Nomiyama and Clive McKeef)

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