Weeks after a Republican senator joked about whether to call her “professor or comrade,” Saule Omarova has withdrawn her nomination for the comptroller of the currency, a key federal regulator for all national banks. In a letter to the White House on Tuesday, the Cornell Law professor wrote that it was “no longer tenable” for her to seek the position after several Democrats reportedly announced their opposition in less-strident terms, dooming her chances.
“Saule would have brought invaluable insight and perspective to our important work on behalf of the American people,” President Joe Biden said in a statement announcing her withdrawal. “But unfortunately, from the very beginning of her nomination, Saule was subjected to inappropriate personal attacks that were far beyond the pale.”
Immediately after Biden announced Omarova as his pick to lead the watchdog, banking lobbyists opposed her for her skepticism toward the industry and staunch support of regulation. Many of the attacks were directed at her personally, as New York’s Rebecca Traister wrote, suggesting a woman who grew up in Soviet-controlled Kazakhstan and attended Moscow State University prior to moving to the U.S. in 1991 was a crypto-communist not qualified to oversee American financial institutions. In a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee last month, Republican Senator John Kennedy said he wasn’t sure “whether to call you professor or comrade” and asked her to produce proof that she resigned from a Soviet youth group she was forced to join as a child.
“Senator, I’m not a Communist,” Omarova responded. “I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born.” She added that her grandmother “escaped death twice under the Stalinist regime. This is what’s seared in my mind. That’s who I am. I remember that history. I came to this country. I’m proud to be an American.” While the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sherrod Brown, described Kennedy’s comments as “character assassination,” her record did not appear to be enough to convince moderate Democrats to vote in her favor. Both Jon Tester and Mark Warner told Omarova in the November hearing that they were concerned by her opposition to a bill they supported in 2018 walking back some of the protections established in the Dodd-Frank Act designed to protect consumers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Omarova said her “sole objection” to the 2018 bill was that it created new loopholes for big banks. Three more Democrats — John Hickenlooper, Mark Kelly, and Kyrsten Sinema — also reportedly stated late last month they would not support her nomination.