Rubio calls Biden bank watchdog pick a 'communist'

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors MORE (R-Fla.) on Friday claimed a Soviet-born Biden nominee whose family was nearly eviscerated by Josef Stalin was a communist unfit to serve in the federal government.

In a Friday tweet, Rubio accused Saule Omarova, who Biden nominated to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and who has been a U.S. citizen since 2005, of being a communist.

“Saule Omarova supports abolishing private bank accounts, using govt to bankrupt energy companies & creating a Soviet style “National Investment Authority,” tweeted Rubio, whose parents fled Cuba before the Fidel Castro seized control of the country in 1959.

ADVERTISEMENT

“She supports communist policies & a communist should not be our Comptroller of the Currency.”

Omarova, a Cornell law professor born in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, served in the Treasury Department under former President George W. Bush. During her Thursday confirmation hearing, she described how she was raised by her grandmother, who was orphaned after her family was sent to Siberia amid Stalin’s purges of the professional class and ethnic minorities.

“I grew up without knowing half of my family. My grandmother herself escaped death twice under the Stalin regime,” Omarova said. “This is what seared in my mind. That's who I am.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Despite the brutal treatment her family faced under the Soviet regime, Republican lawmakers have accused Omarova of hiding communist sympathies and supporting a Soviet-style takeover of the U.S. financial system. They’ve also criticized her for removing in 2017 a reference to a thesis she wrote while attending college in the USSR as an undergraduate and for not submitting the paper to the committee, though the panel does not typically ask nominees for unpublished work.

While Omarova proposed moving most consumer banking into the federal government in an academic paper, she has not called for the entire elimination of private banking as Rubio alleged. She also explained that her proposal for a "radical" reinvention of consumer banking would part of a broader academic debate, and not her blueprint for regulation should she be confirmed.

Omarova's proposed national investment agency would not replace or outlaw private financial markets, but rather direct federal relief and emergency response efforts in times of crisis. Her calls for defunding the fossil fuel industry, which she backed away from Thursday, is also widely shared among liberals who still support the existence of a private sector. 

Rubio's office did not respond to an email requesting comment, but his chief of staff, Michael Needham, insisted that Omarova "supports communist policies" in a tweet with no further explanation.

Some GOP senators have sought to separate Omarova’s proposals from her youth in the Soviet Union, but others such as Rubio and John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) have explicitly accused her of being a communist. 

“I don’t know whether to call you ‘professor’ or ‘comrade,' ” Kennedy told Omarova during her Thursday confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

Senate Democrats say Republicans are waging a racist smear campaign akin to the 1950s probes of suspected communists within the federal government. 

“They have a formula: Start with a passing and inaccurate reference to her academic work, distort the substance beyond recognition, mix in words like 'Marx,' and 'Lenin,' and 'communism.' End with insinuations about Professor Omarova’s loyalties to her chosen country,” said Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats Powell says Fed will consider faster taper amid surging inflation Biden faces new pressure from climate groups after Powell pick MORE (D-Ohio) on Thursday.

“Now we know what happens when Trumpism meets McCarthyism,” Brown continued. “It’s a cruelty no person should experience.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren calls on big banks to follow Capital One in ditching overdraft fees Crypto firm top executives to testify before Congress Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker won't seek reelection MORE (D-Mass.) blamed Republicans for smearing Omarova becacuse “Wall Street feels threatened so they have launched an ugly personal assault on a respected person who never sought the spotlight."

"It is disgusting and anyone who participates in this malicious character assassination should be ashamed of themselves," she continued.

When asked if the administration would condemn that attacks on Omarova, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiUS expected to announce diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics soon: report Joe Biden: The Brian Williams presidency Biden plan for free at-home tests faces hurdles MORE said Thursday she "enjoyed" pushback from Warren, "who maybe we should just point to as our response.

Psaki added, "The president nominated her serve in this job because she is eminently qualified. And she's somebody who would represent the role in the United States effectively in the position, and certainly we're hoping she's confirmed."

Omarova explained Thursday that her life in the “oppressive” Soviet Union reinforced to her the importance of academic and personal freedom.

“It doesn't care about human beings and kills its own citizens for no other reason but the refusal to follow what an oppressive state government ideology tells them to do,” Omarova said of communism.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Everything I do — no matter how people may interpret my academic work — my one goal is to make this country better and stronger so we can never have a repetition of that communist system anywhere in the world,” she continued.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Spending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany MORE (D-N.J.) — who, like Rubio, is the son of Cuban immigrants — told Omarova her background is an asset to that fight.

“Only when you live in such a system can you understand what is necessary to survive, but you seek to ultimately vote against it in every way you can,” he said.

While the Republican questions about Omarova’s Soviet roots have dominated her confirmation process, other concerns among moderate Democrats are the most direct threat to her nomination. Omarova cannot afford a single Democratic objection if all Republicans unite against her nomination as expected.

Several moderate Democrats who’ve condemned the attacks on Omarova’s background have nonetheless expressed concerns with her academic proposals and calls to direct funding away from the fossil fuel industry. Those ideas are popular among the left flank of the Democratic Party, but non-starters among moderate senators who will determine Omarova’s fate in the 50-50 Senate.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. Brett Samuels contributed.