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Trump’s First 100 Days Get a Warm Embrace from Ken Griffin

The Citadel founder is among the participants at the Milken Institute’s annual conference to express positive feelings toward Trump.

  • Imogen Rose-Smith

While most of America remains sharply divided on the performance of the unlikely 45th president’s first 100 days in office, Donald Trump got a decidedly warmer reception at the annual Milken Global Institute conference at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.

Among those positively inclined towards Trump after the first 100 days of his presidency was Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of the $26 billion, Chicago-based hedge fund firm Citadel. Although President Trump has yet to sign any major legislation, Griffin, speaking on a panel, praised the president’s efforts at tax and healthcare reform. Griffin acknowledged that Trump’s 100 day check list is “a little thin” but said what is important is that the tone at the top had changed.

The Milken conference is, as in previous years, a veritable who’s who of political and financial power players. While the program seeks to strike a balance with speakers from both sides of the aisle, it tends to tilt toward the right of center — and heavily feature the party in power. Indeed, the Trump administration is in full show this year, with several administration officials participating.

Griffin, a one-time campaign donor to former President Barack Obama who has in recent years backed Republican candidates, stopped short of giving Trump a full-throated defense but endorsed some of the President’s high-profile initiatives. When asked by panel moderator Gillian Tett, the U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times, whether he would put his money behind either tax or healthcare reform passing Congress, Griffin balked at giving a straight answer. The hedge fund manager did stand up for Trump’s one page tax reform proposal, introduced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump economic advisor Gary Cohen last week, which has been criticized for lacking in substance. Griffin said the one-pager sets out the parameters for Congress to begin the discussion. He also argued that the House Freedom Caucus — a right-wing faction in Congress that last month succeeded in blocking passage of the American Heath Care Act, which would have repealed and replaced the Affordable Care Act passed under President Obama’s administration — will rally behind healthcare reform.

While he was positive on Trump’s efforts to boost the economy, Griffin noted that he is “terrified” of the negative attitudes toward immigrants. Critics say Trump has stoked these attitudes, between his rhetoric both on and off the campaign trail, his plans to build a wall along the Mexican border, and his two executive orders — currently blocked by the courts — seeking to curtain immigration into the U.S. from a handful of predominantly Muslim countries. But Griffin argued that Trump had “gotten the message loud and clear” that the country needs immigrants to do business.

Griffin also had praise for the administration’s approach to regulation. Recently Griffin has been outspoken in his desire to see less regulation of banks and other financial institutions. Speaking to a packed crowd, along side Cisco CEO John Chambers, Griffin said that “every part of our economy has been buried in regulations for the last eight years.” Deregulation would lead to greater growth and innovation, he argued. But Griffin is also keen to see a break up of the big banks — calling it his “fantasy” — though he also acknowledged that ending too-big-to fail is unlikely. Trump and his advisers have recently floated the idea of reinstating a Glass-Steagall Act-style separation of commercial and investment banks.

Mnuchin, a former film financier and Goldman Sachs & Co. executive, kicked off the conference with an interview conducted by Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo.

“We’ve been thinking about taxes as part of an economic program for a long period of time,” Mnuchin said of Trump and his administration.

Mnuchin said his office’s projections show that it will “probably take two years” for the U.S. economy to get to 3 percent growth — it grew just 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017 — “and then we can have a sustained level.”

Mnuchin also said he has been spending much of his time of foreign policy related issues, adding that the president “has made a lot of progress on foreign policy in his first 100 days.” Banking regulation reform is another area where Trump’s Treasury has been heavily involved. Mnuchin joked that everyone in the room should “thank me for your bank stocks doing better.”