Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee

Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee
© Greg Nash

Businesses that support the Export-Import Bank are silent on President Trump's pick to helm the agency, former Rep. Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettBiz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Manufacturers support Reed to helm Ex-Im Bank MORE

The New Jersey Republican voted to close the bank while in Congress, raising questions about how he would run the agency, which has been hobbled by partisan bickering. 

The 57-year-old Garrett, who failed to win reelection in November after seven terms on Capitol Hill, is a founder of the House Freedom Caucus and has called the Ex-Im Bank "crony capitalism."

“For the sake of the American taxpayer and the preservation of the free enterprise system, Congress should put the Export-Import Bank out of business,” he said in a House floor speech in October 2015, around the time he voted against a reauthorization of the bank. 

The Ex-Im Bank lends money to foreign buyers to promote U.S. exports, with Boeing and General Electric the two biggest beneficiaries of the financing. 

Garrett isn’t the first Trump nominee to have previously backed eliminating the agency he was chosen to lead, but the sequence of events that led to his nomination is unusual. 

Trump opposed the Ex-Im Bank during the campaign but abruptly shifted his stance last week, saying the bank helps small businesses.

“Instinctively, you would say, ‘Isn’t that a ridiculous thing?’” the president said of the bank. “But actually, it’s a very good thing. And it actually makes money, it could make a lot of money.”

Two days after that comment was published by The Wall Street Journal, Trump nominated Garrett to lead the Ex-Im Bank. 

While in Congress, Garrett was never shy about taking his own path.

In addition to opposing the Ex-Im Bank, he voted against another term for John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE (R-Ohio) as Speaker in 2015 and argued for new House leadership.

If confirmed as Ex-Im Bank president, Garrett would serve a four-year term.

Most of the industry groups and corporate giants that support the bank have yet to comment on Garrett’s selection. The silence is unusual, as many of the groups routinely put out statements on Trump’s staffing selections.

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a longtime supporter of the Ex-Im Bank, praised Trump’s statement in support of the bank but didn’t specifically discuss Garrett’s nomination.

“The aerospace and defense industry is grateful for President Trump’s support to level the playing field for U.S. companies against foreign government export financing and let American products compete on their merits,” said Dave Melcher, AIA's president and CEO.  

“We look forward to working with the administration and Congress to realize our industry’s full potential to grow American exports and create thousands of high-skill, high wage American jobs,” Melcher said in the statement.  

Conservative opponents of Ex-Im, meanwhile, have praised Trump’s choice while expressing some trepidation.  

Doug Sachtleben, a spokesman for Club for Growth, said that Garrett's nomination is a signal that the White House understands the need for reforms at the bank.

“Boeing and GE may have succeeded in keeping Ex-Im alive, but Scott Garrett’s nomination indicates that the Trump administration is well aware of the many problems that have plagued the agency, and wants someone in charge who won’t toleration corruption,” Sachtleben told The Hill. 

“We’re interested in seeing what reforms a true economic conservative proposes for Ex-Im, but not optimistic that its core mission of picking winners and losers can be fundamentally changed,” he said.             

In addition to Garrett, Trump on Friday said he would nominate former Republican Rep. Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Biz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank On The Money: White House files notice of China tariff hikes | Dems cite NYT report in push for Trump tax returns | Trump hits Iran with new sanctions | Trump praises GM for selling shuttered Ohio factory | Ex-Im Bank back at full strength MORE (Ala.) for a seat on the Ex-Im Bank board.

The Bachus nomination is critical, as the bank’s five-person board needs three members to have a quorum. Without a quorum, the bank cannot approve deals worth more than $10 million.

There are about $30 billion worth of deals stuck in the pipeline at the Ex-Im Bank, which has been without a quorum since 2015.

A quorum is also needed to implement a series of reforms that Congress approved in December 2015.  

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who has led efforts to shut down the Ex-Im Bank, expressed support for the nominations of Garrett and Bachus (Ala.), saying they would “steer the institution towards reform.”

“Having worked with both of these gentlemen closely on the Financial Services Committee, I am hopeful they will safeguard taxpayer dollars and put an end to the bank's well-documented management failures,” Hensarling said.

“With Ex-Im so captured by special interests, the president was right to choose principled leaders like these to safeguard the agency against further mission creep, fraud, waste and abuse,” he said.

Democrats who back Ex-Im, meanwhile, have expressed concern about Garrett’s nomination.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (D-N.D.), a leading proponent of the bank who has worked across the aisle on Ex-Im Bank legislation, called Trump’s nominations a “positive step.” 

“While I have reservations about [Trump’s] nominations and believe they need to be thoroughly vetted, this is a positive step toward helping the bank do its job of delivering funds back to the taxpayers while supporting American businesses and workers,” Heitkamp said in a statement. 

But House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who has previously led bipartisan efforts to keep the bank alive, called on the Senate to reject Garrett outright.

“Once again, President Trump has selected a nominee to lead an agency that individual believes should not exist and has tried to destroy,” Hoyer said.

“If former Rep. Garrett is confirmed to lead the Bank, it would be the ultimate act of sabotage.”