Thursday, November 18, 2021
Cornell Law School professor (and former Davis Polk financial institutions group lawyer) Saule Omarova, was nominated by President Biden to head the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates nationally chartered banks. Omarova is a progressive scholar of financial regulation who has written about the possibility of increased public provision of financial services, including a National Investment Authority to help finance infrastructure projects.
Such public financial institutions might sometimes compete with private financial institutions, much as public universities and k-12 schools take some business away from private universities and private schools, and as public transit takes some business away from car companies. Omarova's advocacy for public options, and some of Omarova's critiques of private financial institutions, have made her a target.
During Omarova's Senate confirmation hearing, her critics resorted to name calling and nationalist dog-whistles, with Republican Senators accusing her of being a "radical" and a "comrade" (i.e., a communist) out to "end banking as we know it" in part because she emigrated from a central asian country that was once part of the Soviet Union.
In what seemed like an anachronism from the worst days of the 1950s, Omarova felt compelled to defend herself by saying: “I am not a communist. I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born . . . My family suffered under the communist regime.”
The Financial Times has the full story.
Senators are of course free to take exception with Omarova's proposals for an NIA or publicly backed electronic payments systems, or to disagree with her advocacy for robust financial regulation, but accusing her of being a communist is beyond the pale.