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Export-Import Bank nominee faces critical vote

by Leigh Ann Caldwell /
Jacob Lew, Scott Garrett, Jeb Hensarling
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., on Capitol Hill in 2014.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

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WASHINGTON — The fight over President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Export-Import Bank, one that has pitted Republicans and special interests against one another, will come to a head Tuesday at a critical Senate vote.

The Senate Banking Committee is set to vote on Scott Garrett's nomination Tuesday morning, and his path forward appears likely to be blocked because he is opposed by at least one Republican on the panel. But critics worry that won't be the end, not if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides to bring his nomination to the floor anyway.

Garrett, a former congressman from New Jersey, has been a public critic of the government-backed bank that provides loans to American companies that export goods and services overseas. Central to the fight is American-owned Boeing, which is the Ex-Im Bank's largest benefactor. If the bank scales back or stops operating, Boeing's largest competitor, European-owned Airbus, will benefit.

While President Donald Trump has been less critical of the bank in office than he was on the campaign trail, where he called it the "bank of Boeing," his nomination of Garrett sent a signal that he has not totally backed off from his criticism.

And there are some hefty allies pushing for Garrett’s nomination, which supporters of the Ex-Im Bank say flies in the face of Trump’s “America First” philosophy.

Lobbyist Dan Murphy was assigned by the administration to help Garrett get through the confirmation process. The lobbying firm Murphy works for, BGR Group, has been paid $1.5 million by Airbus since Murphy joined the account in 2011, according to records kept by OpenSecrets.gov.

Airbus has allies in the Senate as well. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a high-ranking member of the Commerce Committee, is pushing Garrett’s nomination and has been critical of the Ex-Im Bank himself. Airbus built its first American plant in Alabama.

Shelby's office did not respond to a request for comment, but the White House defends Murphy's involvement.

“Dan Murphy has deep experience in public policy and the confirmation process. He has volunteered his time and expertise to the president’s transition, in support of three cabinet secretaries and several other Senate confirmed officials. We appreciate his support for the Trump administration," a White House official said.

Boeing has warned that crippling the Ex-Im Bank will be bad for its business, and the manufacturing giant has its supporters on the committee, too. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is undecided on how he'll vote on Tuesday, but South Carolina is home to a Boeing plant that employs 6,800 people.

"If international customers of tractors, turbines, airplanes or satellites can’t get financing from the United States, they’ll simply take their business elsewhere to one of the dozens of other countries with similar export-credit assistance," Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said last December.

Garrett has called the bank a "corruption of the free enterprise system” and twice voted to eliminate it. During his confirmation hearing Garrett said he would adhere to the “vision” that President Donald Trump has for the bank. But Trump’s position has been wobbly, calling for it to be eliminated on the campaign trail but softening his stance since to say he doesn’t think it should be shut down.

At least one Republican senator on the banking committee has come out against Garrett, threatening his nomination.

That senator, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, has said he’ll vote against Garrett's nomination in committee. "I believe him to be a proponent of the abolition of the bank rather than a reformer of the bank," Rounds told Politico recently. “I'm looking for reformers, not abolitionists."

Conservative political groups, including the Charles and David Koch-backed Freedom Partners and Club for Growth, are supporting Garrett. “South Dakotans deserve better than a politician who opposes President Trump and his nominees,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh, referring to Rounds.

Opponents of the nomination are worried that, if the committee votes Garrett down, McConnell will advance him anyway as part of a larger deal on nominations. David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, said, "After the vote, you can circle back with me since we don’t engage in hypotheticals."

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