‘Professor or comrade?’ GOP senators slam Biden pick for top Treasury post

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President Biden’s Soviet-born choice to lead a key branch of the Treasury Department was grilled during a confirmation hearing Thursday, with one Republican member of the Senate Banking committee saying he had “never seen a more radical nominee to be a federal regulator.”

Saule Omarova, nominated by Biden to be comptroller of the currency in September, has come under fire for past statements — most notably in a paper titled “The People’s Ledger” that advocated for ending banking “as we know it” by making private banks “non-depository lenders” and moving Americans’ money to the Federal Reserve.

In his opening remarks, committee ranking member Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) accused Omarova of a “long history of promoting ideas that she herself describes as ‘radical.’ I agree that they’re radical and they can fairly be described also as socialist.

“She has a plan for the government, through the Fed, to replace the free market and setting what she calls, and I quote, ‘systemically important prices,’ end quote,” Toomey went on.

Saule Omarova of New York is sworn in during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill to examine her nomination to be the comptroller of the currency on Nov. 18, 2021.

“But these are things she listed — these are things like wages, energy. And since the administration has done such a great job on inflation, I’m sure Americans can’t wait until the Fed starts directly controlling prices for eggs and milk and rent.”

Toomey also noted a 2019 tweet from Omarova in which she extolled the “old USSR” where there was “no gender pay gap.”

She attempted to do damage control after being criticized for it, but failed to fully condemn the Soviet Union. 

“I never claimed women and men were treated absolutely equally in every facet of Soviet life. But people’s salaries were set (by the state) in a gender-blind manner. And all women got very generous maternity benefits. Both things are still a pipe dream in our society!” she wrote in response.

President Biden nominated Saule Omarova to be comptroller of the currency in September.

And Toomey asked Omarova if she still supported housing deposits with the Federal Reserve.

“Senator, what I’m trying to clarify here is the problem this paper was trying to solve,” argued Omarova, saying that her job as an academic “was to expand the boundaries and outline potential options for Congress to consider.”

“This is entirely up to Congress whether or not to go that route,” she went on.

“But this is what you recommended,” Toomey shot back, “and it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that every one of these thought experiments or academic ideas … involved dramatic expansion in the power and control of the central government to allocate resources, to control banking, and a corresponding diminution in the freedom of individual Americans and institutions.

Throughout the hearing, Omarova was continuously pressed on her background and connection to the Soviet Union and her comments about communism. 

Sen. Toomey, seen today during a hearing on Capitol Hill, questioned Omarova over her past comments.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

“I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) snarked.

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

The professor denounced the communist regime of the USSR in the hearing, saying, “We can never have a repetition of that communist system anywhere in the world.” 

Other members of the committee gave extreme critiques of Omarova, with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) saying he could not “think of a nominee more poorly suited to be the comptroller of the currency based solely on [her] public positions, statements and the weight of [her] writings than [Omarova.]” 

Saule Omarova was accused by one GOP leader of a “long history of promoting ideas that she herself describes as ‘radical.’”
Bloomberg via Getty Images

He also slammed Omarova’s proposal of removing private bank deposits, calling it “quite disturbing,” particularly for how recent it was made.  

“This is not a position that you took years ago, this is something that you spoke to this year,” he said, noting that there will be nothing she can say during the hearing to “undo” what she has already said. 

Omarova also received hits from Democrats. In his line of questioning, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mt.) said he has “significant concerns” about her policies and criticized the nominee for her previous opposition to a bipartisan regulatory relief he wrote in 2018. 

Tester also pressed Omarova on her public comments on the oil industry, particularly regarding bankrupting oil companies.

“I do not intend to advocate that kind of position,” she said, adding that she misspoke.

“That particular statement about oil and gas companies going bankrupt, as I said, that was taken out of context and I actually misspoke, it was not well framed. My intention was actually to say, exactly the opposite, that we need to help those companies to get restructured.”

The comment in question occurred in February during a “Social Wealth Seminar” event hosted by the Jain Family Institute. 

During the event, Omarova was filmed calling coal, oil and gas “troubled industries” in which “a lot of the small players … are going to probably go bankrupt.”

“At least, we want them to go bankrupt if we want to tackle climate change, right?” she said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen opposed Omarova’s nomination.
Al Drago/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

In a second clip, she appeared to echo that same sentiment saying “the way we basically get rid of those carbon financiers is we starve them of their sources of capital.”

Even Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, to whom the comptroller reports, was against her nomination, the Wall Street Journal reported in an editorial.

Towards the end of the hearing, Toomey requested a second round of questioning, saying “virtually everybody” among the GOP members had additional questions relating to topics that had not been covered. 

“I really think it’s completely premature to try and shut down this hearing,” Toomey said. 

Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who railed against critics on the panel of her past comments and background, stood firm, telling Toomey that the hearing had been scheduled to end at noon. 

Toomey shot back saying hearings occur to have a “thorough discussion.”

“This is one of the most powerful financial regulators in the world that we’re talking about, and members have a lot of substantive questions. They should have a right to ask those questions,” Toomey said.

“And they had two and a half hours for questions,” Brown noted, only granting himself and Toomey time for extra questioning. 

Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) railed against Omarova’s critics on the panel.
Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS

In his closing remarks, Toomey labeled Omarova’s policies and ideas as “consistent with a socialist view of a command and control economy,” saying she is promoting “anti-Democratic ideas.” 

“The idea that we would put a person with these views as the chief regulator of America’s national banks with the enormous powers that I just delineated, this is what is deeply disturbing and chilling,” he added, urging his colleagues not to support the confirmation. 

If confirmed to the position, Omarova would be the first female and non-white person in the role.