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Biden's nominee for bank regulator backs out after bipartisan opposition

Saule Omarova lacked unanimous support from Democrats, while at least two GOP lawmakers suggested she was a Communist.
Saule Omarova answers a question during a Senate hearing on Nov. 18, 2021.
Saule Omarova answers a question during a Senate hearing on Nov. 18, 2021.Tom Brenner / Reuters file

Saule Omarova, President Joe Biden's nominee for a top bank regulator post, withdrew her name from consideration on Tuesday after a fiery confirmation hearing in which GOP lawmakers suggested she had Communist ties.

"I have accepted Saule Omarova’s request to withdraw her name from nomination for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency," Biden said in a statement.

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

During her confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Banking Committee, Omarova, a Cornell University law professor, was grilled by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., about her upbringing in the former Soviet Union, her membership in a youth Communist club and her education.

"I don't know whether to call you professor or comrade," Kennedy said to Omarova during the hearing.

"Senator, I'm not a Communist," Omarova replied. "I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born."

In a tweet after the hearing, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote: "Saule Omarova supports abolishing private bank accounts, using govt to bankrupt energy companies & creating a Soviet style 'National Investment Authority.'"

"She supports communist policies & a communist should not be our Comptroller of the Currency," he added.

Omarova, 55, escaped Kazakhstan and immigrated to the United States in 1991. After working at a law firm for several years she went on to serve as a financial regulation adviser at the Treasury Department during the George W. Bush administration.

“Despite her unquestioned expertise and her bipartisan record, powerful interests distorted Professor Omarova’s views and writings," Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chair of the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. "In a relentless smear campaign reminiscent of red scare McCarthyism, they have shamefully attacked her family, her heritage, and her commitment to American ideals. I am disappointed that these spurious attacks and misrepresentations of Professor Omarova’s views were not resoundingly rejected in a bipartisan manner."

In her brief letter withdrawing from consideration, Omarova did not mention her confirmation hearing.

"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 said. "At this point in the process, however, it is no longer tenable for me to continue as a Presidential nominee."

Omarova also appeared to lack unanimous support from Democrats, essentially sinking her nomination given the level of GOP opposition.

If confirmed, Omarova would have been the first woman, the first person of color and first immigrant to serve as comptroller of the currency. The agency was created in 1863 to supervise and regulate the nation's banks.

Biden said in Tuesday's statement that he "will continue to work to find a nominee for this position," adding that he plans "to make an announcement at a future date."