Politics & Policy

Biden’s Pick for Top Bank Watchdog Withdraws

Saule Omarova teatifying before a hearing of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in 2018. (Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs)

President Joe Biden’s pick for comptroller of the currency, Saule Omarova, has removed herself from the running for the position after receiving strong criticism from lawmakers of both parties and the banking industry over her aggressive approach to regulating the financial sector.

“I deeply value President Biden’s trust in my abilities and remain firmly committed to the Administration’s vision of a prosperous, inclusive, and just future for our country,” she wrote in the letter. “At this point in the process, however, it is no longer tenable for me to continue as a Presidential nominee,” she wrote to the White House in a statement to cancel her candidacy as comptroller of the currency.

In a follow-up statement, Biden praised her “deep expertise in financial regulation and her long-standing, respected career in the private sector, the public sector, and as a leading academic in the field.” Despite her qualifications and command of the subject, he said, she was subject to political assaults determined to kill her prospects.

“As a strong advocate for consumers and a staunch defender of the safety and soundness of our financial system, Omarova would have brought invaluable insight and perspective to our important work on behalf of the American people,” Biden said. “But unfortunately, from the very beginning of her nomination, Omarova was subjected to inappropriate personal attacks that were far beyond the pale.”

After five moderate Democratic senators including Senate Banking Committee members Jon Tester, Mark Warner, Kyrsten Sinema, John Hickenlooper and Mark Kelly opposed her, Omarova was presumed to be dead in the water.

The academic repertoire of the former law professor drew the suspicion of many Republicans, and they grilled her on it during a congressional hearing weeks ago. In one particularly radical work of economic thought, she advocated to “end banking as we know it.” Citing her radical commitments, Republicans like Senator Kennedy accused her of being sympathetic to communism.

“I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade,” he said.

Omarova and her Democratic defenders cast the criticism as an unfair smear motivated by her upbringing in the Soviet Union.

“Senator, I’m not a communist,” Omarova responded. “I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born.”

Based on her writings and pedigree as a former Soviet citizen, Republicans feared that Omarova was a proponent of nationalizing banking and targeting the fossil fuel industry with greater regulation. The nominee had explained, however, that oil and gas companies make up a “very important part of the economy.”

More progressive Democratic members on the Senate Banking Committee, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, endorsed Omarova. Warren blasted Republicans for rejecting Omarova, accusing them of “doing the bidding of giant banks that want to keep gobbling up smaller competitors, want to keep ripping off their customers, and want to keep getting away with it.”

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