The increasingly troubled nomination of Saule Omarova to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency took a turn towards the mean as news outlet Fox News published a story headlining a long dismissed 1995 misdemeanor arrest in Wisconsin for retail theft.(“White House stands by nominee Saule Omarova, who was arrested in 1995 for ‘retail theft’”).
While the story explains in detail that the charge was dropped in 1996 as part of Wisconsin’s first offender policy and that Omarova has been honest and open about the incident throughout her career, the timing of the article comes on the heels of last week’s news that Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee have expressed reservations about two of Omarova’s past financial policy positions.
This raises the question whether the Senate Banking Committee signalling to the White House the Senate is turning against the nomination.
Senator Ted Cruz’s Twitter account retweeted the Fox News story, with the question “Is it the best idea to put someone arrested for “retail theft” in charge of our banks?”
Is it the best idea to put someone arrested for “retail theft” in charge of our banks? https://t.co/fP7BRTAy4V
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) November 17, 2021
Anecdotal accusations against the nominee have been circulating the news media over the past weeks. Omarova’s early education at Moscow University, her penchant for Marxist theory, her off-the-cuff remarks about the expendability of smaller oil industry companies in pursuit of a greater climate change good, and her quippy observations of the personal character of the more colorful members of banking and finance. Each have been covered in news and social media. The latest allusion dredging up her 1995 arrest attests that the campaign of sensation against President Biden’s nominee carries on.
Omarova is technically well qualified to fill the position, according to the White House, which continues its support for the nominee. Her academic work is in the area of banking regulation and law. She’s served in multiple administrations. She practices law working closely with the very “a——-” her meme says she derides. She is objectively equal in her good deeds to past Currency Comptrollers who served the nation.
But it’s her policy stances on issues such as the “changing banking as we know it,” migration of demand deposit accounts (DDA’s) from private banking to the Federal Reserve, and her support for the concept of a National Investment Authority (NIA) that would have the authority to compel the direction of private investment a la Chinese Central Committee style strategic investing, is where Democrats, and Republicans too, have taken substantive issue with Omarova. I covered these in more detail last week, “Why Congress Is Troubled by the Saule Omarova Nomination.”
The DDA issue is particularly substantive, because Omarova, as head of the OCC, would hold powerful sway over the direction the “core deposits” of the bank she would be regulation does. It should be no surprise that the “a——-” are concerned and lobbying their case to all the members of the Senate body.
But do these attempts through the press to “knee bite” at Omarova lessen the chance of her nomination? Oder does this empower Omarova’s nomination to be pushed through the more contemptuous process by the White House?
My instinct says this one’s far less polar, and much more nuanced, than other, more controversial social engineering nominations by the Biden team. The Washington Beltway is a byzantine landscape where the ‘who is planting what for what purpose’ is often well hidden in the tapestry. It is a tactic to weaken the cohesion between like-minded organizations emerging across political lines by creating divisions within Senate Banking Committee.
The messaging and media’s willingness to sensationalize the issue are both clear.
First, senators, both Democrat and Republican, are expressing concerns about Omarova’s potential impact on bank policy and regulatory affairs, were she to be given the reins of the OCC. She is being vilified in a campaign to conceal her qualifications.
They move tactically in the opposite direction of the nominating party. White House defends her by insisting that her qualifications are more important than the worries. That’s a defensive posture to hold out against the siege. Pure defense is usually futile in politics.
If Joe Biden really wants Saule Omarova to head the OCC, he’s going to have to address the legitimate concerns of the members of the Senate Banking Committee head on. If he does, the knee biting won’t mean much to the decision.
You can do bigger things
It’s important to get away from the minutiae. What’s really being argued is whether the White House’s agenda to centralize federal control over the United States economic and societal apparatus is something the Senate will agree to. The administration’s nominations share a pattern of putting forward persons who have central governance views. When it reaches Congress in the United States, it has some limitations. And, perhaps most importantly, it reaches Senate. That is exactly how checks and balances are supposed to work in the design of our republic.
Omarova, as all other political appointees, is a pawn within the larger argument about government design and philosophy. He is no different from any nominee this president has made, nor anyone before him.