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Sen. Jon Tester

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mt.) speaks during Dr. Saule Omarova's confirmation hearing to be the Comptroller of the Currency with the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill on November 18, 2021. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Given Cover by Red-Baiting GOP, Corporate Dems Rebuked for Tanking Biden Nominee for Top Bank Regulator

"If you think that Senate Democrats rose up to [Republicans'] shameful display of modern McCarthyism by rallying around President Biden's nominee or her ideas that banking should work for the middle class, then you don't know the soul of today's Democratic Party," wrote one columnist.

Julia Conley

While a number of Democratic senators joined the White House is decrying the "red scare McCarthyism" that Republicans lobbed at President Joe Biden's nominee for a top bank regulatory position, progressives on Wednesday argued that the GOP's attacks on Saule Omarova simply gave cover to corporate Democrats who also objected to the nomination.

Omarova on Tuesday withdrew herself from consideration to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which is tasked with regulating the largest banks in the country, telling the White House that it was "no longer tenable" for her to continue in the confirmation process.

"In failing to defend Saule Omarova against the brutal McCarthyism of her Republican critics, the Democrats' centrist wing is hitting a moral low to coincide with their lack of political foresight."

The Cornell Law School professor's decision followed a blatant smear campaign by Republicans including Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and John Kennedy (R-La.), who suggested Omarova has not sufficiently distanced herself from Communism following her childhood in the former Soviet Union.

As Toomey demanded to see a paper on Marxism that Omarova wrote while a student at Moscow State University "in the original Russian language" and Kennedy asked the nominee whether he should address her as "professor" or "comrade" during her confirmation hearing, powerful banking lobbyists painted Omarova as a threat to the U.S. economic system.

Lobbying groups expressed objections to a paper Omarova wrote in 2020 about the Federal Reserve potentially providing bank accounts using its own digital currency and circulated a Wall Street Journal editorial questioning the professor's trustworthiness considering her place of birth, with Independent Community Bankers of America chair Brad Bolton tweeting, "This nomination must be stopped!"

What Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) referred to as "outrageous red-baiting," however, was not what harmed Omarova's chances of being confirmed.

Instead, five centrist Democrats—Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.)—told the White House they had their own concerns about Omarova's nomination.

Tester questioned Omarova about comments she previously made about the oil and gas industry, which she said would likely "go bankrupt in short order"—something that would have to happen "if we want to tackle climate change." He also joined Warner in objecting to Omarova's opposition to a 2018 bill the two senators supported, which the professor said would have created regulatory loopholes for big banks.

Omarova has also proposed an infrastructure program under which the federal government would provide funding for projects that private companies don't see as profitable and has criticized Wall Street banks from benefiting from government bailouts after damaging the economy, telling the Wall Street Journal last month, "I want to protect the American taxpayer, basically, from holding the bag."

"If you think that Senate Democrats rose up to [Republicans'] shameful display of modern McCarthyism by rallying around President Biden's nominee or her ideas that banking should work for the middle class, then you don't know the soul of today's Democratic Party," wrote Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Inquirer after the centrists expressed their concerns to the White House. "In failing to defend Saule Omarova against the brutal McCarthyism of her Republican critics, the Democrats' centrist wing is hitting a moral low to coincide with their lack of political foresight—as the party melts down and an opposing party that no longer believes in democracy is advancing on the capital, again."

Journalist Alex Yablon tweeted that Kennedy did the centrists "a huge favor" by ensuring the corporate media focused on the McCarthyism displayed at the confirmation hearing.

"It's the backstabbing of the five bought Democratic senators that's the real story," added civil rights attorney Chase Madar. "Here as elsewhere, no effective party discipline."

Matt Duss, foreign policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), denounced the corporate Democrats for doing "bank lobbyists' bidding" and helping Republicans to sink Biden's economic agenda.

Centrists including Tester and Warner are "basically co-signing GOP 'Socialism!' attack ads in 2022 and '24," tweeted Duss. "And then they'll blame progressives for losses."


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