For a long time, the relationship between JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and President Barack Obama seemed solid. They just got each other: Both were Chicago Cubs fans and had a tendency to use salty language. Both had easygoing attitudes that disguised their rabidly ambitious natures. A rapport developed between them, based on a politically palatable quid pro quo: If the president needed to understand something about the banking industry, he called Jamie. In turn, Jamie’s close relationship with the president made him seem as though he was invested in doing what was best for the American people, which helped JPMorgan avoid the public-relations trap that Goldman Sachs, whose closest Washington ally appeared to be Henry Paulson, eventually fell into.
It’s hard, as it always is, to say when exactly things fell apart. Signs of strain first began appearing last summer, when the Obama administration laid out a plan for regulatory reform that banks felt was confining, and Jamie struck back in a passive-aggressive op-ed. By this spring, they were openly, uncomfortably fighting, with the JPMorgan CEO accusing the administration of indulging in “capricious, arbitrary, and punitive behavior,” and the president saying that some “fat cat” bankers just “don’t get it.” Even though the president later backtracked by saying that he didn’t “begrudge” Jamie his wealth, and (we imagine) assured him in a private phone call that he wasn’t fat, there were hurt feelings on both sides. The relationship, it seemed, was inexorably broken. And then a new man came into Obama’s life.
Brian Moynihan, who became CEO of Bank of America in December, wasn’t as prickly as Jamie. He wasn’t as bitter or demanding. He was a “fresh face,” as Bloomberg reports today, and the president, like all men, loves strange. They report on the pivotal date during which Moynihan sealed the deal:
Less than a month into his tenure as CEO, Moynihan attended a dinner at the Treasury with Geithner and other administration officials and the heads of several banks, including Bank of New York Mellon Corp., US Bancorp and BB&T Corp. Throughout the Jan. 20 dinner, some executives criticized what they described as the administration’s populist tone toward Wall Street, an attendee says.
Presidential spokeswoman Valerie Jarrett dismissed the idea that Dimon had been dumped and denied there was a “popularity contest” among bankers in Washington, but she did concede that the president had feelings for Moynihan. “In addition to being an active leader of his bank, he has also expressed a willingness to work with the administration and have a level of corporate responsibility beyond the bank,” she told Bloomberg. “We appreciate that effort.”