When your greatest legislative achievement is passing one of the most contentious provisions in the 113th Congress — a Dodd-Frank rollback that lobbyists literally helped write — taking credit for the legislation is a delicate art.
If you celebrate your win with a round of self-congratulatory press releases, you risk incurring the wrath of an American public generally resentful and distrusting of Wall Street. But for Rep. Kevin Yoder, a key figure in the successful effort to push changes to the Dodd-Frank banking regulations through Congress late last year, letting his legislative fingerprints be washed away in the news cycle is its own sort of torment.
The Kansas Republican argues the new rule, which allows banks to trade energy and agricultural commodities, is just common sense. And though he's earned a reputation as one of the least confrontational lawmakers on the Hill, Yoder is pushing back against the narrative from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and others that the change amounted to a nefarious, mustache-twirling regulatory repeal quietly tucked into the "cromnibus" — behind closed doors — in the dead of night.
"They found a way, I think, to shorthand America's frustration with Wall Street ... — and the meltdown in 2008 — into any amendments to Dodd-Frank," Yoder told CQ Roll Call during an hourlong interview in his office last week.
"Somewhere in the process, Elizabeth Warren decided to make this her linchpin of her rationale for opposing the bill, her candidacy for president," he said.
While critics, such as Florida Democrat Alan Grayson, called the Dodd-Frank change "a good example of capitalism's death wish," Yoder said it was a "modest fix." And he accused politicians of exploiting the complex change to score easy political points.
"In Congress, a derivative is something that is defined as something that loses money," Yoder said half-jokingly.
He argued banks were already able to trade agriculture and energy commodities by establishing a secondary bank for that purpose. In his telling, all the regulation was doing was locking out smaller banks from the financial instrument.
Yoder, a 39-year-old lawmaker now in his third term, noted the original Dodd-Frank legislation didn't include the section his amendment negated. That language was added later through an amendment from then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., after the legislation already had the approval of the House Financial Services chairman at the time, Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, then-Senate Banking Chairman Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, and then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who actually lobbied against the change .
The provision was an afterthought, according to Yoder — and a harmful one at that.
"Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post , Occupy Wall Street folks, they really made this a symbol for much more than it was," he said in a follow-up interview this week.
Much of the criticism of the provision — and of Yoder — centers around the source of the language striking the provision. Emails revealed that Citigroup lobbyists had drafted identical language to what was eventually enacted.
But Yoder said he had nothing to do with that — "I can't even tell you the Citigroup lobbyist's name" — and he pointed CQ Roll Call in the direction of the lawmaker from whom he lifted the language: Financial Services member Randy Hultgren. (When we caught up with Hultgren, the Illinois Republican said he lifted the text from former Rep. Nan Hayworth, R-N.Y., who introduced a version of the bill in 2011.)
Wherever the language originated, Yoder defended the rollback — and the process.
He said he offered the change as an amendment to the Financial Services appropriations bill in July — "In the light of day, by the way," — and it was adopted on a voice vote. The House had previously voted on the legislation, passing similar provisions with veto-proof majorities.
When it came time for Congress to pass a bill funding government operations for fiscal 2014, Yoder, who is a member of the Appropriations Committee, was in a position to have those provisions included. So he saw to it they were.
Quiet. Serious. Effective. That's the style Yoder's going for.
If you listen to him talk about his journey into politics — and even before that, his journey to Kansas University — he uses phrases such as "survey the landscape," "kept my head down" and "trying to figure out how to navigate the waters."
Ever the aw-shucks farm boy, Yoder said he was intimidated to go to Kansas University. But that's where he learned the value of service and where he joined numerous organizations, including the college Democrats. ("I attended a couple meetings, but I don't think I was ever an official member," he said, noting he was once a registered Democrat.)
By the time Yoder was a senior at KU, he was out of his shell. He was elected student government president, and he still proudly displays a campaign poster from the time in his office. He said his student government slogan — "Campus Cause: Your Money. Your Campus. Your Cause." — showed his fiscal conservatism roots.
Yoder also got his law degree at KU, where he was president of the Student Bar Association his final two years. Soon after graduation and six days after taking the bar exam, he won the primary that led to a seat in the Kansas Legislature, where he began to earn a reputation as a tough negotiator. He eventually became chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee while Kathleen Sebelius was governor. When Democrat Dennis Moore announced he would not seek re-election in 2010, Yoder ran for Congress, defeating Moore's wife, Stephene.
Yoder and his wife, who is the chief of staff for Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, had their first child in November 2013. When Yoder was sworn in this year, he brought his daughter along. Initially attempting to hold the 14-month-old Caroline in his left arm while taking the oath of office, Yoder eventually put her down and finished the oath while she crawled around on the House floor.
When she cooed as members finished their constitutionally mandated pledges, all he could do was smile.
Yoder says he doesn't take himself too seriously — but when it comes to the issues facing Congress and the country, he's all business.
Despite that, up until the Dodd-Frank claw-back Yoder was best known for a skinny-dipping incident in the Sea of Galilee while on an official congressional trip to Israel. "It made for an interesting story," Yoder said.
He continues to apologize for the incident and he uses it as a teachable moment. "I certainly learned a lesson from that experience," he said.
While he's still young, Yoder is moving up the Appropriations Committee ladder, getting closer to a subcommittee chairmanship and making connections with the right people.
He plays doubles tennis regularly with Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas.
Smith said Yoder's "almost a ringer."
In Yoder's words: "I've learned the fine art of double-faulting at the right time."
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