Biden’s Bank Watchdog Pick Faces Pushback from Key Democrats
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s pick to lead a top banking watchdog is on shaky ground after key Democratic senators criticized Saule Omarova.
Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia expressed concerns about the nominee to be chief of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency at a hearing Thursday, raising doubt that she will have enough votes to be confirmed. Republicans have uniformly opposed the outspoken Cornell Law School professor and because the Senate is 50-50, all eyes are on undecided moderate Democrats.
At the hearing, Warner said he was “pretty disappointed” about some of her past views on bipartisan banking legislation that rolled back rules stemming from the financial crisis. Tester said he had “significant concerns” about some of her positions, and later told reporters that he has additional questions for the nominee. Neither said whether they would support or oppose her nomination.
Sherrod Brown, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, told reporters after the hearing that he’s confident she will be confirmed.
Omarova, who would be the first woman and non-white OCC chief, has been the focus of aggressive opposition from Wall Street lobbyists, Republican lawmakers and political operatives. Republicans again on Thursday highlighted the Kazakhstan native’s Soviet origins, her academic papers advocating for a fundamental overhaul of the financial system and her remarks about letting smaller energy companies go bankrupt as the economy turns to a greener future.
“I’ve never seen a more radical nominee to be a federal regulator,” said Pat Toomey, the committee’s top Republican. He said her academic work and public speeches represent a “socialist manifesto for American financial services.”
Omarova praised the U.S. banking system as the best in the world, and she said she was guilty of “poor phrasing” in her comments on the energy industry. As for her academic writings, the professor insisted that she was conducting thought experiments that weren’t necessarily meant as a practical blueprint but as a way to give policy makers ideas as they debate the future of banking in the digital era.
She also pledged to be tough on Wall Street firms like Wells Fargo & Co. that have frequently run afoul of regulators, saying if confirmed as comptroller she would “make sure that no bank, small or especially large, gets away” with that behavior.
“The fines should have a real bite,” Omarova said. “I think that executive compensation should be on the line for the big banks that continuously and repeatedly violate laws.”
The battle over Omarova has veered from policy to personal. Republicans and conservative media have repeatedly focused on her background as an immigrant from Central Asia’s Kazakhstan, highlighting that she grew up in the former Soviet Union and questioning whether she supported communism.
“I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade,” said John Kennedy, a Republican senator from Louisiana, provoking an angry exchange Brown, a Democrat from Ohio.
Brown called the personal attacks on Omarova “unprecedented.”
“Now we know what happens when Trumpism meets McCarthyism,” Brown said. “It’s a cruelty no person should experience.”
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