Fratto: White House-CEO Meeting is Smart
The Obama Administration is ending a positive week for them by bringing to the White House a group of big bank CEOs.
Until this week, the Administration has stumbled when communicating on the financial rescue. Secretary Geithner recovered with a more positive reception to his financial rescue and regulatory announcements. And today's meeting is a smart and powerful tool for the White House in trying to achieve their policy and message goals.
Ironically, from a public image standpoint, the meeting is smart for the CEOs, too - even if the visit is a begrudging one. Since the start of the financial crisis, bank CEOs (with the occasional exception of JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon ) have only been seen in public long enough to be arrayed at a witness table for some congressional blood-letting.
I'm not sure why the banks think laying low and hoping it will all go away is a winning strategy, but at least today they'll have the opportunity to be seen in daylight on a lovely Friday in Washington, and maybe they'll even have some positive rhetoric about their participation in financial rescue efforts. The CEOs may not appreciate it now, but they'll soon be thankful to see news pictures and video of them at the White House replacing those awful congressional hearing shots.
By bringing the CEOs to the White House, President Obama will have the opportunity to keep the banks on the reservation. Wall Street chatter in recent weeks has been about banks seeking to exit TARP both because of Congress' response to the AIG bonus explosion, and by some banks seeking to highlight their relative health. However legitimate their concerns, from the perspective of the White House, this chatter isn't helpful.
President Obama can set aside (but not bury) the hatchet with Wall Street by emphasizing the Administration's goal of full participation by the banks, and by committing to watching their backs should congressional anger management be necessary.
By hosting this meeting, the White House is also fully employing the power of the Office of the President. They know that the CEOs, upon exiting a meeting with the President of the United States and with the West Wing as backdrop, are guaranteed to utter only warm and sunny tones in harmony with the sun-dappled White House on this fine spring morning.
Using the White House this way isn't a new tactic, but it's a smart one.
Tony Fratto is a CNBC on-air contributor and most recently served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary for the Bush Administration.