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A Fight Over Biden’s Pick for a Banking Watchdog Gets Nasty

Progressives say Saule Omarova would deliver much-needed industry skepticism as comptroller of the currency. Republicans suggest she’s a Marxist.

Saule Omarova

Saule Omarova

Source: Cornell Law School

Cornell Law School professor Saule Omarova was thrust into the spotlight in September when the Biden administration announced her nomination for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a branch of the Treasury Department that polices some 1,125 banks. The choice of the avowed liberal and outspoken finance industry critic united Wall Street and tiny community lenders against her. So far, a pretty standard Washington story.

But things quickly grew uglier and more personal. Republican lawmakers raised the specter of a Soviet-style takeover of the finance system, leaning partly on an academic paper Omarova wrote imagining a new role for the Federal Reserve as a kind of public bank—and by asking pointed questions about her biography. Omarova, who was born in Kazakhstan when it was part of the former Soviet Union and came to the U.S. in 1991, is a graduate of Moscow State University. Pat Toomey, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, noted that her college scholarship was named for Lenin. He took to the floor to demand a copy “in the original Russian’’ of a paper that focused on Marxism. The conservative tabloid the Daily Mail dubbed her “Biden’s new comrade.”