Saule Omarova claimed that the banking industry was responsible for her nomination to be a top bank regulator in the country. She said they distorted her research which resulted in an environment where attacks on her became personal and unfair.
Omarova spoke to Steve Inskeep, NPR Morning Edition host, in her first interview since withdrawing her nomination to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which oversees over 1,000 U.S. bank branches.
During her nomination at Cornell University, Omarova was subject to a series of direct attacks by Republican senators and conservative organizations. One such attack included the suggestion that Omarova, who was born during the Soviet Union, held communist views.
Omarova, a U.S. citizen has strongly denied this.
Omarova stated that she was shocked by the nature and intensity of the attacks. She said that those against her nomination mischaracterized her work, and demonized Omarova.
“The substance of my scholarship is completely distorted. “It’s effectively been turned into caricature,” Omarova said to NPR.
She said, “I wasn’t prepared for that.”
An inside look at the bitter and personal battle over Biden’s selection to oversee banks
Omarova, a professor, has suggested influential, but unorthodox reforms for the U.S. financial sector. She advocated reining banks’ speculative trading and aiming to increase the number of regular bank employees.
For example, her critics cited from a recent paper that included a proposal for the Federal Reserve to enter the retail banking business.
Omarova suggested that the central bank could offer everyday Americans bank accounts. This would be a radical departure from current banking system.
Industry groups like the American Bankers Association and Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), made statements of opposition to Omarova’s nomination. However, they did not make personal attacks on her.
Omarova claimed that opposition from banking advocates had created an atmosphere in which she was attacked personally, including by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa), who she said “was actually the one who came up with this whole line” of questioning.
Toomey made a passionate speech against Omarova in October. He said she “clearly has an abversion to anything like free market capitalism”, while noting that he had never seen a more radical choice in any regulatory position in the federal government.
Toomey suggested that Omarova’s views might have been influenced by her upbringing during his speech.
“You might ask, “Where did this person come up with these ideas?” He said. “Well, perhaps a contributing factor could be if someone grew up in former Soviet Union and then went to Moscow State University and received a Vladimir Lenin Academic Scholar.”
Omarova was raised in Kazakhstan, the former Soviet Union. Before moving to the United States in 1991 to attend graduate school, she studied at Moscow State University.
Omarova decided to remain in the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She worked as an academic and for a private law company.
Toomey made a statement to NPR in which he supported Omarova’s nomination as the OCC head.
Toomey stated that there was a consensus among the two parties that Professor Omarova’s self-described radical ideas for America’s banking system were inappropriate for the top bank regulator of the nation. “I hope that the Biden administration will choose a nominee who shares mainstream views on the American economy.”
“Professor or comrade”
Omarova referred to her opponents in general and said that they made a strategic choice that the best way to defeat me was to generate this…political backlash against my personal. Also, you should demonize me personally.
Omarova said that the attacks made Omarova “a caricature… of this evil person, possibly a spy for Soviet Union, never mind the fact it doesn’t exist.”
She said, “I guess that strategy paid off,”
Omarova stated that she was angry at a series of questions Sen. John Kennedy asked her about her childhood during her Senate nomination hearing last week.
Kennedy stated that Kennedy didn’t mean any disrespect at the time. “I don’t know if I should call you a ‘professor’, or a ‘comrade.
The audience gasped at the comment.
Omarova responded that she was not a communist. I don’t subscribe to this ideology. “I could not choose where my birthplace was.”
Omarova still remembers the thoughts that were going through her head almost a month later.
She said, “I was shocked by it, but it also made me genuinely angry.” “And that was when I realized, ‘Okay .'”‘, it is enough.
Kennedy’s office had also not responded to NPR’s request to comment.
Omarova stated that she was unable express her opinions to all senators as it is the norm during confirmation hearings. Omarova noted that, despite her willingness to meet with senators as often as necessary, she only met with Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming), despite her making it clear.
Omarova stated that senators should understand my true beliefs and not just what bank lobbyists told them to do. “The only assumption that I can make is that they chose not to meet me.”
Despite the fact that Republicans were the most vocal critics, moderate Democrats expressed reservations about her candidacy. This left her with no clear path to confirm.
NPR was informed by the ICBA that it had not voted for Omarova’s nomination.
It stated that the ICBA and state banking associations publicly opposed – in a detailed correspondence – a nominee for prudential banking regulator due to Professor Omarova’s published scholarship, public statements, and advocating government capital allocation and credit, ‘fully replacement’ private bank deposits, and ending banking as it is’. This would have a devastating effect on community banks, small businesses, and local communities.
The ABA declined comment.
Omarova: Banks were to be worried
Omarova, in her interview, defended her views regarding the banking sector and said that she had never supported nationalizing private banks, as has been suggested.
She stated that her primary objective was to ensure banks are focused on helping people, promoting the real economy, and not making large profits from speculative trade.
She stated that her positions were “finally quite simple.” “I believe that our financial system must do better to serve the interests of American citizens and American businesses. It also needs to be more responsive to the American economy and real economy.”
She also noted that if she had been confirmed, she would have advocated for more regulation and harder questions within the OCC’s powers.
Omarova stated that the banking sector has “absolutely” cause for concern.
She stated that regulators should question banks about why they are investing in certain assets in order to preserve the integrity of the financial system.
Omarova said that if you do not act in this way, it could result in a repeat 2008 Global Financial Crisis which required the bailout of key banks.
“We are subsidizing in an important sense their ability make private profits. We have the right ask these questions. She added that we have the right of pressing them to all times about the decisions they make.” “And I believe the regulators have been more lax and timid lately with respect to asking banks these types of questions.”
“They chose to weaponize me identity”
Omarova initially hesitated to answer a question about whether she believed her opponents were motivated by racism and sexism.
She said that it was difficult for her to answer the question, “you know, whether or no individual person attacked me necessarily because of racist or sexist motives.”
She stated that she didn’t want to be seen as a victim during this whole process. She also noted that the attacks on her were fabricated from the beginning.
Omarova made it clear that she doesn’t believe that the opposition from banks is necessarily personal
“In fact, I believe the Wall Street lobby doesn’t really care about me or my sex. She said that they would have loved me the same way as I am if I had stood up for their interests.
“But they chose weaponize my identity to make it easier to defeat my nomination politically.” They did exactly that.
She stated that the fallout went beyond individual attacks by senators.
She stated that she had received hate mail and that a lot of it was using racial insults and other insults that she’d never heard of in her life.
“So, how do you feel about it personally?” Is it possible to separate racism, sexism, and all the other things, xenophobia, from each other? She added. “I don’t know. It’s difficult.”