Trump to nominate bank watchdog in potential blow to Biden

Jesse Hamilton

President Donald Trump signaled he intends to nominate the acting Comptroller of the Currency to a new five-year term, potentially complicating plans the Biden administration has to impose tougher regulations on Wall Street banks.

In a Tuesday statement, the White House said it intends to submit Brian Brooks’ name to the Senate for confirmation. The highly unusual move – coming just weeks before what’s likely the end of Trump’s time in office – could force President-elect Joe Biden to rely on never-used legal authority to try to remove Brooks and replace him with a more aggressive watchdog.

Brian Brooks

Though the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is a division of the Treasury Department, it’s outside of the Treasury secretary’s direct control. Still, the law says a comptroller can be ousted by the president “upon reasons to be communicated by him to the Senate” – a power that’s gone untested.

Most of the major regulations for U.S. banks are written and approved in collaboration among the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the OCC. Having Trump people atop any of those agencies could have a major impact on how much rulemaking could be done by Biden’s apointees.

Read More: Wall Street’s Best Defense From Democrats Is Trump Holdovers

The FDIC is already expected to be run by Chairman Jelena McWilliams, a Trump pick, until 2023, and Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles can stay in his role until late next year. The OCC was thought to be the only slot immediately open for Biden to start remaking banking policy.

Brooks wouldn’t have much time to be confirmed before the president-elect is sworn in on Jan. 20. Brooks must face a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee and needs to be approved by that panel before his nomination could be considered by the full Senate.

It’s unclear whether Trump and Senate Republicans could organize all of that and marshal enough votes. They’ve already been stymied in the controversial confirmation process of Fed board nominee Judy Shelton, as Republicans concluded Tuesday that they lacked sufficient backing to advance her nomination.

Read More: Shelton’s Fed Nomination Blocked in Blow to Trump, McConnell

Brooks, who became interim head of the OCC in May, has leveraged experience he gained at San Francisco-based cryptocurrency company Coinbase Inc. and other firms to push a financial technology agenda. He was also the former top lawyer and a board member at Fannie Mae.

“If confirmed, I will work ceaselessly to ensure the agency continues to fulfill its critical mission,” Brooks said in a Tuesday statement.

While the Fed is generally considered the most powerful of Wall Street’s regulators, the OCC has the most on-the-ground examiners working inside major banks. It also imposes some of the biggest sanctions on lenders that are accused of violating rules.