President Joe Biden’s pick to be the nation’s top bank regulator spent her Thursday confirmation hearing defending herself from Republican senators who accused her of being a communist because she grew up in the former Soviet Union.
Mr Biden’s nominee to head the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is Saule Omarova, a Kazakh-American law professor who moved to the United States after the fall of the USSR’s communist government and later earned a PhD from the University of Wisconsin and a law degree from Northwestern University. She previously served in the Treasury Department during the George W Bush administration.
As Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown opened Dr Omarova’s hearing, he noted that Republican opposition to Dr Omarova’s nomination began almost immediately after it was announced, starting with a Wall Street Journal editorial attacking her for having studied in the former Soviet Union despite having been born there.
“They highlighted that she went to Moscow State University. They highlighted that she received a scholarship named after Vladimir Lenin, neglecting to mention that pretty much everything … in the Soviet Union was named after Lenin…they made outlandish, unfounded claims based on where she grew up,” Mr Brown said. “They have a formula: start with a passing and inaccurate reference to her academic work, distort the substance beyond recognition. Mix words like Marx, Lenin, and communism with insinuations about Professor Omarova and her loyalties to her chosen country. That’s how Republicans turn a qualified woman into a Marxist bogeyman”.
“Now we know what happens when Trumpism meets McCarthyism,” Mr Brown added. “It’s a cruelty no person should experience”.
As if to prove Mr Brown’s point, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana raised those exact sorts of criticisms when it came time to question Dr Omarova a short time later.
“You used to be a member of a group called the young communists, didn’t you?”
Dr Omarova responded by asking Mr Kennedy if he was referring to her membership in a state-mandated youth organization, Komsomol, when she was a child in the Soviet Union.
“Were you a member of that organization?” he asked once more.
“Senator, I was born and grew up in the Soviet Union…everbody was a member…that was a part of normal progress in school,” she said.
Mr Kennedy then asked her if she had resigned, and if so, whether she had a formal resignation letter, at which point Dr Omarova attempted to explain that in the former Soviet Union, one simply aged out of membership.
The senator then began recounting how Dr Omarova had studied “scientific communism” as an undergraduate at Moscow State University and concluded his remarks by saying: “I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade”.
Dr Omarova responded: “Senator, I’m not a communist. I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born…my family suffered under the communist regime — I grew up without knowing half of my family, my grandmother twice escaped death under the Stalinist regime”.
“That is what is seared in my mind, that is who I am…I am proud to be an Americam, and this is why I came here today, senator. I’m here today because I’m ready for public service”.
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