Monday Morning Cup of Coffee takes a look at news coming across HousingWire’s weekend desk, with more coverage to come on larger issues.
With each passing day, the financial markets (and the American people as a whole) are getting more insight into how President Donald Trump and his administration plan to pursue the financial overhaul and regulatory rollback that Trump frequently spoke of during his campaign.
Those plans took a step forward recently when President Trump signed an executive order that is believed to be the administration’s opening salvo in the expected push to roll back or replace the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.
Standing right next to the president when he signed the order was Gary Cohn, the White House National Economic Council Director and a former top executive at Goldman Sachs.
After news of the order first leaked out, Cohn appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Fox Business (at least) to tout the president’s plans for the financial system.
Now, we’re getting more of a look at Cohn’s role in the White House and just how important he is to the administration.
And interestingly enough, we’re getting that look courtesy of competing (and somewhat similar) profiles of Cohn’s role from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, both of which published lengthy “behind the scenes” articles about Cohn on the same day.
Here’s the New York Times headline from Saturday: Trump’s Economic Cabinet Is Mostly Bare. This Man Fills the Void.
And here’s the Wall Street Journal version from the same day: Gary Cohn Has Emerged as an Economic-Policy Powerhouse in Trump Administration
In what might seem like an ironic coincidence, both articles open with an anecdote about Cohn’s first meeting with Trump, although it appears that the New York Times sources were a little more forthcoming about the meeting than the WSJ’s sources were.
Here’s the WSJ’s opening:
At Donald Trump’s first meeting with Gary Cohn in late November, he appeared so impressed with the then-president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that he joked about offering him the post of Treasury secretary, said a person who recalled the moment. Sitting nearby was the odds-on favorite for the job, Steven Mnuchin, who got the nod.
Mr. Mnuchin’s confirmation has since been delayed. In the meantime, Mr. Cohn, in office as director of the National Economic Council since the start of the Trump administration, has emerged as the most powerful economic policy maker in its early days.
Whereas the Times opening goes into much more (and different) details about Cohn’s maiden meeting with Trump.
From the Times:
A few weeks after the election, Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, was summoned to Trump Tower for a discussion about the economy. It would be the first of many such meetings with President-elect Donald J. Trump.
During that sit-down, on Nov. 29, Mr. Cohn briefed Mr. Trump on what he regarded as the chief hurdle to expanding the economy, according to people who were briefed on the discussion: a stronger dollar, which would undermine efforts to create jobs.
Mr. Cohn also argued that the bold infrastructure projects that Mr. Trump envisioned would need private-industry partners, those people said, in order to avoid weighing down the government with costs.
That got Mr. Trump’s attention.
The president-elect turned to the other people in the room — his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon; his chief of staff, Reince Priebus; and Steven T. Mnuchin, his campaign’s chief fund-raiser and Mr. Trump’s nominee to be Treasury secretary — surprised that his infrastructure ideas had such a potential downside.
“Is this true?” Mr. Trump asked the group, according to those people. Heads nodded. “Why did I have to wait to have this guy tell me?” he demanded.
From there, both articles weave tales of the growing importance of Cohn within the Trump administration, as he is seemingly running point on all things economy right now.
From the Times:
It would not be the only time Mr. Cohn was a lonely voice in Mr. Trump’s inner sanctum. Two and a half months after that initial meeting, with key economic posts in the White House and cabinet still vacant, he has become the go-to figure on matters related to jobs, business and growth. He resigned from his position at Goldman in December to become director of the president’s National Economic Council.
People with knowledge of his new role said that Mr. Cohn, a Democrat, is summoned to the Oval Office for impromptu meetings with the president up to five times a day — and that he reaches out to the president on other occasions. Mr. Trump, said one of these people, is oriented toward the bottom line when it comes to shaping policy, often asking Mr. Cohn, “What do you want to do?”
And from the WSJ:
The White House has designated Mr. Cohn to play a central role on taxes, infrastructure, financial regulation and replacing the Affordable Care Act. He stood over the president’s shoulder as Mr. Trump signed executive orders on financial regulation. The White House says it is preparing a tax-overhaul plan for release within weeks, giving Mr. Cohn a prime role when several top economic posts remain vacant.
Though these will eventually be filled, Mr. Cohn is rapidly assembling a growing portfolio that could solidify his influence in the administration for the long term.
Both articles make sure to note that Cohn is a Democrat (a “registered Democrat in the words of the WSJ), and both articles also state that Cohn works closely with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of the president’s most trusted advisors.
Both articles also note how Kushner was the one who brokered that initial meeting between Cohn and Trump.
The WSJ article delves some in Cohn’s relationship with Steve Mnuchin, the Trump administration’s choice to serve as Secretary of the Department of the Treasury. The article states that the two men, who are former Goldman Sachs executives, are working closely together as Mnuchin awaits confirmation from the Senate.
And both articles note the pushback from Democratic lawmakers about Goldman Sachs’ supposed sway in the administration.
Both articles mention Larry Kudlow, the CNBC contributor who also served as an advisor to the Trump campaign.
The WSJ article notes that Cohn “sidelined some campaign advisors,” including Kudlow, as he has gained power and influence in the administration, while the Times article quotes Kudlow directly.
One thing is clear though, Gary Cohn has friends in high places and he intends put them to good use.
In other news, a hearty congratulations to Jim Nadler, who is taking over at Kroll Bond Ratings Agency as the company’s new CEO.
Nadler replaces the credit ratings agency’s namesake, Jules Kroll, who is stepping aside later this month. Previously Kroll served as CEO and chairman, but moving forward, Kroll will serve only as chairman.
Nadler helped found the company with Kroll in 2010, and has served as the company’s president since then. Now he’s moving up to the CEO position.
Prior to joining KBRA, Nadler was the vice president for General Re and also spent time with Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s.
“Growing KBRA into the successful rating agency it is today has been truly rewarding,” Kroll said. “Our goal was to create a different type of rating agency that put investors first and we have done that and much more. I look forward to Jim expanding the footprint of KBRA while maintaining the standard that investors have come to rely on and trust.”
Additionally, KBRA named Ira Powell as the company’s new chief operating officer.
Powell previously served as the company’s chief of staff and chief credit officer, and joined the firm in 2015 from the aforementioned Goldman Sachs.
And finally, later this week, the focus of the mortgage servicing world will be right in HousingWire’s backyard as the MBA’s National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo 2017 is taking place from February 14-17 at the Gaylord Texan in Dallas.
The conference kicks off in earnest on Wednesday with the featured speaker, Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach, who also found a great deal of success in commercial real estate after his playing days ended.
Given that the conference is just a quick ride from HousingWire’s world headquarters, our team will be there in full force.
So come by our booth and keep an eye out for my fellow reporters and editors, as we’ll all be roaming the halls and conference rooms.
Another interesting thing to keep an eye out for is Fannie Mae, which said last week that it has “big news” to share at the conference about its plans to “simplify servicing.”
Should be interesting…
And check back with HousingWire throughout the week, as we’ll have coverage from the conference.
With that, have a great week everyone!