Opposition Grows To Biden’s Comptroller Of Currency Nominee Who Wants Radical Reform Of Banking System

November 13, 2021

By Terri Jo Neff |

A letter sent last week to President Joe Biden by Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee and the top financial officers of 17 other states is drawing attention to the growing bipartisan opposition to Biden’s nominee for Comptroller of the Currency. 

“Biden wants Saule Omarova in charge of our banking system, who studied in Moscow under a Communist regime and prefers the centralized banking system of the Soviet Union to America’s own free market system,” Yee said Friday. “The American people deserve better.”

The Office of Comptroller of Currency is an independent bureau within the United States Department of the Treasury responsible for chartering, regulating, and supervising all national banks and thrift institutions, as well as federally licensed branches and agencies of foreign banks in the United States.

Omarova, a 55-year-old professor at Cornell Law School, was formally nominated by Biden in September to head the office, subject to Senate confirmation. Since then, a ground swell of opposition has developed Omarova’s her self-described  “radical reform” ideas.

“Her public policy positions are really, really problematic if you want a free-market banking system,” says Rob Nichols, president of the 1,100-member American Bankers Association. “It is a blueprint for nationalization.”

Much of the concern with Omarova’s nomination stems from her documented positions which appear to run counter to the objectives of the Comptroller of Currency.  Those objectives include ensuring the safety and soundness of the nation’s banking system, ensuring fair and equal access to financial services to all Americans, and enforcing those anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism finance laws which apply to national banks and federally licensed branches and agencies of international banks.

As recently as February, Omarova wrote of her support for what she described as an “overtly radical reform” of the banking system in the United States. Such reform -which Omarova said would “effectively end banking as we know it”- could result in American’s deposit accounts bring held by the Federal Reserve Bank instead of in private banks.  

The growing scrutiny of Omarova’s nomination will soon come to a head when the U.S. Senate Banking Committee decides whether to advance her nomination to the full Senate. Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is a ranking member of the committee and a skeptic of Omarova’s nomination.

“In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more radical choice for any regulatory spot in our federal government. I know that is a very sweeping statement to make. I think I can stand by it,” Toomey said back in October, adding that Omarova “clearly has an aversion to anything like free market capitalism..”

Omarova’s supporters are quick to allege it is her ethnicity and gender -not her policy positions- prompting the pushback.  But Republicans are not the only ones expressing concern. On Nov. 9, Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana went public with his hesitancy over Omarova’s nomination. 

“Some of Ms. Omarova’s past statements about the role of government in the financial system raise real concerns about her ability to impartially serve at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and I’m looking forward to meeting with her to discuss them,” Tester said.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is also a member of the Senate Banking Committee. She has not publicly expressed an opinion on the nomination.

America’s banking system, however, is not the only economic system Omarova believes could be reformed or even replaced. She has openly supported a proposed National Investment Authority which would be responsible for “devising, financing, and executing a long-term national strategy of economic development and reconstruction.”

The result, according to Yee and the other states’ financial leaders, would give the Federal Reserve systematic control of prices for fuel, food, raw materials, metals, natural resources, home prices, and wages.

“I join my fellow financial leaders from across the country with deep concern that Ms. Omarova’s radical, socialist views would lead to her abusing her supervisory power as Comptroller to expand political control over the private banking sector and disrupt both Arizona’s and the nation’s economy,” Yee stated Nov. 12 in a separate letter.

However, the White House has doubled down on the nomination in a statement which notes Biden continues to “strongly support” Omarova. The statement refers to the nominee being “eminently qualified” for the position. 

A biography shows Omarova was born into a Muslim family which lived in what was then the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. She was awarded the Lenin Award at Moscow State University before moving in 1991 to the United States where she completed her Ph.D. in political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Omarova holds a Juris Doctor from Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. She served as a special advisors for President George W. Bush’s Department of the Treasury under the Under Secretary for Domestic Finance.

In addition to Arizona, the financial officers who signed the Nov. 12 letter to Biden represent the following states: Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky,

Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The CEO of the State Financial Officers Foundation was also a signee.  

Since May, the acting Comptroller of the Currency has been Michael J. Hsu. He is overseeing 3,500 employees based in the main Washington D.C. office as well as district offices in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, and New York City.

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