In a statement Tuesday, Biden said he had accepted Omarova’s request to withdraw her nomination and would continue to work to find a nominee for the position.
“As a strong advocate for consumers and a staunch defender of the safety and soundness of our financial system, Saule would have brought invaluable insight and perspective to our important work on behalf of the American people,” he stated. “But unfortunately, from the very beginning of her nomination, Saule was subjected to inappropriate personal attacks that were far beyond the pale.”
During Omarova’s confirmation hearing last month, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) had suggested that her upbringing in Soviet-controlled Kazakhstan indicated a possible Communist loyalty.
“I don’t know whether to call you ‘professor’ or ‘comrade,’ ” Kennedy told Omarova, who pushed back and said her family had suffered under the Communist regime.
“Senator, I’m not a communist,” Omarova said. “I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born.”
But her nomination was fraught for other reasons. Senate Republicans were expected to oppose her confirmation unanimously, meaning a single Democratic defection in the evenly divided chamber would have sunk her bid.
A handful of moderate Senate Democrats had expressed concerns about Omarova’s views, and private meetings with her did not appear to have assuaged them.
“Some of Dr. Omarova’s past statements about the role of government in the financial system raise real concerns about her ability to impartially serve at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and I’m looking forward to discussing them with her at her hearing,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a member of the Banking Committee, said in a statement last month.
Responding to the news of her withdrawal, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) blamed “powerful interests” for launching a “relentless smear campaign reminiscent of red scare McCarthyism” against her.
“I am disappointed that these spurious attacks and misrepresentations of Professor Omarova’s views were not resoundingly rejected in a bipartisan manner,” Brown said in a statement.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a liberal who has long called for stronger banking regulations and who had cheered Omarova’s nomination, said that Omarova deserved better than “outrageous red-baiting.”
“It’s no secret that big banks oppose strong rules & regulators that protect the economic security of families,” Warren tweeted Tuesday. “[Omarova is] a leading expert on financial regulation & staunch consumer advocate.”
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), the top Republican on the panel, said in a statement that Omarova’s confirmation hearing revealed a “bipartisan consensus” that her “self-proclaimed radical ideas for America’s financial system were not suitable for our nation’s top banking regulator.”
Republicans zeroed in on her academic writings in that session. In a 2020 paper titled “The People’s Ledger,” Omarova proposed the Federal Reserve provide consumer banking services as a “cheaper and more efficient alternative” to deposit accounts offered by private banks. In another, she called for installing a government representative on the board of any banking institution deemed big enough to pose a potential risk to the broader financial system. Those papers and others drew an uncharacteristically fierce campaign against her nomination from the banking industry.
As head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Omarova would have supervised about 1,200 banks, including large national firms, with $14 trillion in total assets — roughly two-thirds of the U.S. banking system. Among other responsibilities, the job involves overseeing banks’ risk management, and their investment and lending in low-income communities.
In a statement, Omarova called it a “great honor” to be tapped for the role. “I deeply value President Biden’s trust in my abilities and remain firmly committed to the Administration’s vision of a prosperous, inclusive, and just future for our country,” she said. “At this point in the process, however, it is no longer tenable for me to continue as a Presidential nominee.”
Michael Hsu, who has served as the acting head of the agency since May, is considered a leading candidate for the nomination.