Wall Street doesn’t have many friends in Washington these days—especially among Democrats on Capitol Hill. They pushed through the massive Dodd-Frank financial overhaul and are scrutinizing derivatives trading and similar high-risk practices.
There is one House Democrat who’s shown some sympathy for Wall Street: Jim Himes. A former Goldman Sachs investment banker who represents Greenwich, Westport, and other affluent Connecticut towns where many bankers rest their heads at night, he isn’t shy about defending the industry or decrying Wall Street bashing. Banking policy has devolved into a “morality play that is good vs. evil, Democrat vs. Republican, which is absurd,” he says. Dodd-Frank “contains some very, very good things and very important things. And it contains some silly things.”
From his seat on the House Financial Services Committee, Himes has sided with Democrats in resisting Republican calls to repeal Dodd-Frank—which he helped to write and voted to pass—but he’s also joined with Republicans who argue the law puts the industry on too short a leash. This year, he has authored legislation to limit the ability of regulators to oversee international swaps trades, and worked out a deal between the parties to water down requirements that financial firms keep their derivatives deals separate from their federally insured banks. He has also leaned on regulators to ease restrictions on the speculative trading banks do for their own accounts.
No surprise that Himes’s efforts win him kind words from Wall Street. “He brings real-world experience to the table,” says Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry trade association. “He’s somebody we can work with.” Of the $1.7 million in campaign contributions Himes has amassed to fund his campaign for re-election, nearly $219,000 has come from the securities and investment industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
He’ll likely need all the cash he can get: Republicans have put Himes on their hit list of potentially vulnerable House Democrats targeted for defeat in November. “We plan to hold Jim Himes accountable for his record supporting the president’s big government tax-and-spend agenda,” says Nat Sillin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Himes’s Wall Street cred isn’t enough to make Republicans forget that he is otherwise a reliable Democrat who backs President Obama’s health-care reform law, favors tough environmental regulations, and believes his GOP colleagues are kidding themselves if they think they can reduce the deficit without raising revenue. It probably doesn’t help that Himes can’t seem to keep his thoughts to himself. An avid Twitter user, @jahimes rarely misses a chance to poke Republicans in the ribs, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—a politician not noted for his sense of humor. “So you can support Cantor’s bill or you can be serious about taming the deficit. But you can’t do both,” Himes tweeted on April 20. (He says his staff has laid down the law: no mention of body parts, and no tweeting after more than two drinks or less than four hours of sleep.)
Himes, who won his seat four years ago by defeating a veteran Republican, knew he’d have to fight to keep it. Though he’s personally popular and his district leans Democratic, it’s expected to be a close race. “I gotta be at Rotary clubs, I gotta be at American Legions, I gotta be at people’s events,” he says. “I look at the lifestyle of someone who has a safe seat and I crave that lifestyle, but it’s not good. The country would be a lot better off if everyone’s district looked like mine. I always have to be on my toes.”