As Maxine Waters takes the gavel of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, it’s not clear whom she’ll end up disappointing more: business-friendly Democrats or progressive Democrats.
Conservative Republicans have derided her for touting President Donald Trump’s impeachment, vowing revenge on Wall Street banks and suggesting supporters confront administration officials to protest immigration policies.
Those same pronouncements have won her admiration from progressive fans eager for Congress to draw Republican blood.
But in recent weeks, the California Democrat has pushed back on expectations she’ll breathe fire as committee chair. Instead, she and her allies have been promising a more pragmatic approach, while moderate Democrats, who rely on Wall Street for campaign cash, are urging her to engage Republicans in crafting legislation.
“These people in the media who only want to talk about Trump and want to somehow fashion an argument that I’m going to spend all my time on Trump” are wrong, Waters said in an interview Friday. “This is a big committee, with complicated issues that we’ve been working on.”
The issues for which she’s seeking Republican support include a reform of flood insurance, the export-import bank, tackling homelessness and what she called “working with the Senate” on deciding what to do about government-backed mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
More exciting for progressives is Waters’s vow to restore the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And while she said that investigating Trump’s lender, Deutsche Bank AG, is “not the centerpiece of my committee,” she does plan to look into loans made to the president and his family.
It’s a fine line to walk, and it illustrates the challenges Democratic leaders face in the coming months in trying to appease competing factions of the party. Waters must balance her own legislative priorities with the demands from her supporters to stick it to Trump and Wall Street.
“There’s two sides of Maxine,” said Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer, a Republican committee member from Missouri. “We’ll see which one shows up.”
Waters made history Jan. 3 when she was sworn in as the panel’s first female and first African-American chair. Like her predecessors, Water’s personal style will play a big role in shaping financial services policies in Washington for the next two years.
Waters joined the finance panel in 1991, after she was elected for the first time to the House, where she represents part of Los Angeles. She became the panel’s top Democrat in 2013.
“She got there like I did — by outlasting people,” said Barney Frank, the retired Massachusetts congressman who led the committee from 2007 to 2011. “She’s very knowledgeable and sophisticated when it comes to these issues. She’s very pragmatic and committed to helping middle-class people.”
Since the midterms that swept her into the top committee job, Waters has tried to demonstrate she can work with Republicans. She’s repeatedly praised outgoing finance chairman, retiring Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, and frequently has nice things to say about the incoming GOP ranking member, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina.
The efforts to temper her image and work with Republicans aren’t sitting well with progressives. Groups like Allied Progress have been ramping up their attacks on moderate Democrats who may try to push Waters to consider pro-bank policies. And progressive colleagues have been trying to stack the committee with like-minded freshmen, including Katie Porter of California and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Another consideration is campaign cash. Finance committee members are in line for contributions from some of the wealthiest firms and individuals in the country.
Waters has talked about reining in Wall Street’s political influence, but she’ll continue to face pressure to raise campaign money for herself, her colleagues and her party — something she’s been good at in the past.
In this year’s election cycle, nine out of 10 of Waters’s top contributors worked in the finance industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.