Omarova Backs Out of Biden Comptroller Nomination After GOP Attacks Claiming She’s a Communist
After withering attacks by Republicans for her Soviet origins, Cornell Law School professor Saule Omarova has withdrawn her name from consideration to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), a US Department of the Treasury agency.
Omarova notified the White House of her decision in a Tuesday letter, telling US President Joe Biden it was “no longer tenable” for her to seek the position.
“As a strong advocate for consumers and a staunch defender of the safety and soundness of our financial system, Saule would have brought invaluable insight and perspective to our important work on behalf of the American people,” Biden said in a statement.
“But unfortunately, from the very beginning of her nomination, Saule was subjected to inappropriate personal attacks that were far beyond the pale,” he added.
During a Senate confirmation hearing last month
, several conservative lawmakers grilled her on the circumstances of her Soviet upbringing. The Kazakh-American was born in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the USSR’s 15 constituent republics, in 1966, and like many Soviet youth, joined the Communist Party’s youth program, or Komsomol.
Omarova later studied at Moscow State University, graduating in 1989. She left the Soviet Union during the final days of its collapse in December 1991, traveling to the United States and renouncing her Soviet citizenship.
However, for Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), this past was suspicious and somehow relevant to her nomination to manage the US currency. He asked her if she had ever resigned from the Komsomol, which was abolished in 1991 and which one automatically was disenrolled from after reaching age 28, and asked her to produce a resignation letter proving she had detached herself from the group.
Later, after highlighting several titles and topics on Omarova’s CV that he found objectionable, including a paper on Karl Marx's seminal economic text "Capital" that she had written as part of her undergraduate studies, Kennedy flatly told the economist: "I don't know whether to call you professor or comrade.”
“Senator, I’m not a Communist,” Omarova told him. “I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born.”
Kennedy’s questioning was by far the most hostile, but other conservative colleagues didn’t treat her much better.
However, Omarova was also opposed by Wall Street bankers and financiers, who similarly focused
on her Soviet origins for months before her November hearing, and even some moderate Democrats disliked her criticisms
of their legislation weakening aspects of the 2010 Dodd-Frank finance reform law.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who chairs the Senate Banking Committee and defended Omarova during her GOP grilling, said after she announced
her pullout on Tuesday that “powerful interests” had launched a “relentless smear campaign reminiscent of red scare McCarthyism” against her.
“They have shamefully attacked her family, her heritage, and her commitment to American ideals,” he added. “Dr. Omarova is one of the most qualified nominees ever for this job because of her experience as a policymaker, in the private sector, and in academia.”
Conservatives calling liberals “socialists” or “communists” is nothing new in American politics, and the GOP has revived that perennial scare tactic in its attacks on the Biden administration, portraying everything from pandemic safety mandates
to the Build Back Better Act
as opening the door to a dictatorship of the proletariat. Ironically, Biden has stepped up his attacks on socialist states and movements around the globe, from China to North Korea, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, in line with his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.