White House taps key Senate aide for Treasury rescue mission

President Donald Trump is planning to nominate a top Senate aide to serve in a key role at Treasury as the department struggles with a limited set of senior staff and increasingly strained relations with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The White House intends to nominate Chris Campbell, staff director for the Senate Finance Committee GOP, to serve as assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions, people close to the matter said.

The job is among the most critical at Treasury as the department, led by Steven Mnuchin, tries to push forward some of Trump’s signature goals, including a major tax reform package and sweeping changes to Wall Street regulations. Treasury also faces the need to raise the nation’s borrowing limit in the coming months to avoid a potentially catastrophic default.

Campbell is expected to have a broad portfolio beyond financial regulation such as helping with negotiations on tax reform — which he led for Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch for the past several years — and raising the debt ceiling.

Right now, Mnuchin is operating with very few Senate confirmed senior staff. The administration has not yet nominated a deputy secretary after its preferred candidate, Goldman Sachs executive Jim Donovan, dropped out. There is also no nominee for the critical job of undersecretary for domestic finance or several other top assistant secretary positions.

“It’s really a disaster right now,” said a senior financial services industry attorney who has worked with multiple administrations. “You walk down the halls at Treasury and the offices are mainly empty or there is someone in an acting role.”

The issues at Treasury go beyond the lack of confirmed or nominated senior staff.

Campbell is expected to try to smooth thorny relations between Treasury and Capitol Hill. Some Republicans on the Hill have grown frustrated with the department in recent months, particularly the role played by top counselor Craig Phillips, a former Hillary Clinton supporter and close friend of Mnuchin, himself a former Democratic donor.

“Whenever I engage with a senator or a House member about Treasury they talk about Craig Phillips and it’s a problem,” said a senior Republican with close ties to both Treasury and Capitol Hill. “There are three major complaints: That he’s a Democrat; that he’s very difficult to work for and work with, and that he’s not well-organized.”

A Treasury spokesman declined to comment on complaints about Phillips.

Campbell’s arrival, should he win confirmation, is intended to address some of those concerns and improve coordination between the White House and Capitol Hill as negotiations press forward on tax reform and on adjustments to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

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