President Barack Obama planned to get tough with executives from top U.S. banks on Monday and tell them that they must help lift the country out of the economic crisis they helped to create.
As Obama sat down for an 11:10 a.m. EST session at the White House, three of the 12 executives were missing, their flight canceled because of foggy weather.
Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs; John Mack, chairman and CEO, Morgan Stanley; and Dick Parsons, chairman, Citigroup took part by phone.
In a sign of the discomfort big financial firms have experienced as recipients of taxpayer bailout funds, Citigroup announced a plan to repay the money it owes the government, which will allow it to escape restrictions on executive pay.
Having complained about fat cat bankers taking big bonuses, Obama planned to press the firms to expand their lending to small businesses and to stop trying to thwart legislation to overhaul the financial regulatory system.
What the president's going to say to the bankers is: you guys were part of the problem, you helped create an economic crisis here that has cost 7 million Americans their jobs, and now you have to be part of the solution, senior White House adviser David Axelrod said on ABC's Good Morning America.
People are not going to tolerate a situation where the bankers have a party, they pick up the tab and then the bankers pay themselves huge bonuses and they're not lending, he said.
Obama welcomed the bankers to the White House Roosevelt Room and the bankers on the phone begged forgiveness for not being there.
Right after meeting the bankers. Obama was due to make a public statement about the economy, at 12:10 p.m.
An army of lobbyists for banks and Wall Street firms, whose profits may be threatened, have fought for months to weaken and delay reforms, criticizing what they call an unneeded and costly intrusion on business.
TROUBLES ON MAIN STREET
Many Americans are outraged at the bonus practices of Wall Street and blame the recklessness of financial players for causing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
In the aftermath of the crisis, Americans are grappling with continued job losses. The U.S. unemployment rate was 10 percent in November.
Obama, whose public approval ratings are below 50 percent, the lowest of his presidency, is frustrated that some of the public's anger at Wall Street firms is being directed at his administration for its support of a $700 billion financial rescue package it inherited from the Bush administration.
The White House has sharpened its rhetoric toward the financial industry as it seeks to distance itself from Wall Street.
In an interview broadcast on the CBS program 60 Minutes on Sunday, Obama vented annoyance with the bankers over bonuses and their efforts to derail proposals for tougher oversight of Wall Street.
I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street, Obama said.
What's really frustrating me right now is that you've got these same banks who benefited from taxpayer assistance who are fighting tooth and nail with their lobbyists up on Capitol Hill, fighting against financial regulatory control, he added.
The Obama administration has defended its support for the financial rescue program, saying it was needed to stem a panic in financial markets and head off a potentially greater calamity in the broader economy.
In a victory for Obama, the U.S. House of Representatives last week approved its version of the financial regulatory reform legislation. Before the bill can become law, the slower-moving Senate will need to approve its version, then differences between the two bills will need to be ironed out.
(Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Howard Goller and Jackie Frank)