President Bush yesterday reappointed Robert L. Clarke as comptroller of the currency, ending a week of speculation that the nation's chief regulator of federally chartered banks would be ousted because of industry complaints that tough examinations were creating a credit crunch.
The White House issued a terse announcement. "This is a reappointment," it said.
Clarke said that the reappointment to a five-year term was "an expression of confidence" and said he looks forward to the confirmation hearing.
In a conciliatory statement, Clarke said, "It is an extremely difficult time for lenders, borrowers and bank regulators. However, we can work through the current problems if lenders assume their responsibility to make loans and take reasonable risks and if regulators follow a responsive, balanced approach that takes into account ... the very significant national interest in not unnecessarily depressing credit availability."
Clarke added that "now is a time for the application of common sense, a time when neither lenders nor regulators should overreact or be unresponsive."
Last week, White House sources said that Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu, was trying to block Clarke's nomination because of Clarke's rigorous stance concerning bad loans in the banking industry. To bolster his case, Sununu solicited support from business leaders. The president received at least one letter signed by a number of large GOP contributors that called for Clarke's removal.
Sununu's effort pitted him against Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, who had already recommended Clarke's reappointment. The comptroller of the currency reports to the Treasury secretary, though in practice he has considerable independence.
Members of Congress warned the White House that ousting Clarke would send the wrong signal to regulators, who might fear repercussions for being too strict. Yesterday, Clarke released a plan to examine the assets of banks with more than $1 billion in assets.
Treasury officials say that bankers use regulators as an excuse for denying loans to would-be borrowers who are bad credit risks. Clarke has resisted pressure to relax standards, saying that bank examiners must ensure that banks remain safe and sound during a period of weak real estate markets and rising loan losses.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency oversees national banks chartered by the federal government. Those banks make up about a third of the nation's commercial banks.
Earlier yesterday, before the announcement of Clarke's reappointment, L. William Seidman, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman who has feuded with the White House on occasion, offered the beleaguered comptroller some help. "I told Mr. Clarke that I would be for him or against him, whichever would do him the most good," Seidman said.