Senators snipe at each other in heated confirmation hearing for Biden bank regulator pick

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  • The nomination hearing for President Joe Biden’s comptroller of the currency, Soule Omarova, raged on Thursday as Democrats and Republicans lashed out at each other.
  • Omarova’s nomination to be one of the country’s top bank regulators is uncertain, given fierce opposition from the GOP and skepticism from moderate Democrats.
  • Ranking member Pat Tommy, R-Pa. began her remarks by saying that Omarova’s ideas would “destroy” community banks.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s nomination hearing to be comptroller of the currency, Soule Omarova, turned furious on Thursday as Democrats and Republicans lashed out at each other over the candidate’s unconventional academic work and her upbringing in the Soviet Union.

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Omarova’s nomination to be one of the nation’s top bank regulators is uncertain, given fierce opposition from the GOP and skepticism from moderate Democrats, including Senator John Tester of Montana.

The main concern among Republicans and a handful of Democrats is Omarova’s writings, as a legal scholar who considers sweeping changes to the American banking system.

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Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee began the hearing with a review of a Cornell University law professor’s legal study. he challenged the ideas He has discovered to increase the power of the Federal Reserve. and effectively franchising community banks as a threat to the American financial system in the future.

Pat Tommy of Pennsylvania, a ranking GOP member, began his remarks by saying that Omarova’s views would “destroy” community banks.

“Overall, his views are the equivalent of a socialist manifesto for American financial services,” Tomei said in his opening remarks.

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In a recent article, a Cornell University law professor explores the idea of ​​moving consumer deposits away from community banks and parking them at the Federal Reserve. Community banks would then be paid by the US government to operate the ATMs and otherwise act as local liaisons on behalf of the Fed.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he agreed with Tommy and said he was “disturbed” by his nomination and who viewed his views as hostile to community banks.

The controller controls approximately 1,200 banks with total assets of about $14 trillion, or two-thirds of the entire US banking system. Its representatives work with large banks to ensure that lenders are complying with federal law and providing fair access to financial services and otherwise scrutinizing bank management.

If confirmed to head the office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an independent bureau of the Treasury Department, Omarova would be the first woman, immigrant and person of color to take the role.

Omarova countered Shelby by noting the important role local banks played in powering small businesses and how she felt when she opened her first US checking account in 1991.

“Holding a check book in my hand was a symbol of economic freedom and autonomy,” she said, comparing her childhood in Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union.

Despite the GOP’s focus on her academic work, Omarova insisted that those writings are purely theoretical and should be viewed in the context of the ongoing debate among scholars. He also opposed Republican efforts to portray him as an anti-bank.

“If I am confirmed to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, my top priority will be the guarantee of a fair and competitive market where small and medium-sized banks that invest in the homes and small businesses of their neighbors can thrive. Maybe,” she said. Said in the opening speech.

If confirmed, she later said, Community Bank “couldn’t find a better ally than I could find.”

“I know the difference between the job of an academic and the freedom of academics in terms of the pursuit of ideas … and the job of a regulator, which is very limited,” he told CNBC on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen whether her recent comments are enough to persuade Democrats like Tester, who have yet to decide whether to support Omarova. Other centrist Democrats, including sans Joe Manchin and Kirsten Cinema, are also reportedly unsure whether they will support Biden’s choice to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Asked whether his comments on Thursday pushed him for or against his candidacy, Tester told reporters he was “going to synthesize what we’ve heard.”

“I’ll probably make a statement later,” he said. “I don’t know about today, but it will be soon.”

Omarova’s advocates say her candidacy is being tainted because of discrimination based on her birth.

A tense moment came just before 11 a.m. ET, when Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. asked Omarova about her membership in a youth communist group during her childhood in Kazakhstan.

Omarova replied that membership in the Communist Party was required under a totalitarian government and stated that her family members were murdered by the Communist Party led by Joseph Stalin.

Committee chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, interrupted Kennedy’s line of questioning as personal and irrelevant to his candidacy, a rare move that drew opposition from Republicans at the end of his allotted time.

“I’m struggling with what to call him,” Kennedy said. “I don’t know whether to call him ‘Professor’ or ‘Comrade’.”

Those comments were quickly rebuked by Democrats, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who called such attacks on Omarova “vicious.” Sen. Jack Reed, DR.I. said he was “disturbed” by the personal nature of his criticism.

But Democrats weren’t the only ones refusing to pay attention to where Omarova was born. Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina said he has “serious” concerns about his policy position, but no worries about his upbringing.

“For someone who lost family members when she was young, for someone who was growing up in Russia, I think that some of the decisions that Dr. Omarova made back then are alive. Living used to have a lot to do with something else,” he said. “I don’t care about where she came from: You can’t choose where you were born and you choose the greatest nation on earth to be a citizen of.”

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