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Editorial: Red card: It is beyond the pale to paint Saule Omarova as a Soviet infiltrator

Daily News Editorial Board, New York Daily News on

Published in Op Eds

While Senate confirmation hearings often get heated, it’s rare these days to see legislators out-and-out accuse administration nominees of being secret Communists. In fact, it’s been more than 60 years since that sort of thing was seen as appropriate. Yet this past week, senators from the Banking Committee did just that to Saule Omarova, Cornell Law School professor and President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The OCC doesn’t garner much public attention, but it is a crucial banking regulator that oversees financial institutions with a combined asset value of $15 trillion. Though Omarova is widely considered a leading scholar of financial regulation, some senators seemed more interested in her early background as a Kazakh Soviet citizen who attended Moscow State University before being stranded in the U.S. while participating in an exchange program in 1991.

In the wake of accusations of red-baiting, commentators have tried to retroactively claim that the aggressive questioning was about Omarova’s more recent theoretical writings on financial systems and regulation, not her past. This defense doesn’t pass the smell test: GOP Sen. John Kennedy at one point wondered whether he should call Omarova as “comrade” and asked if she had resigned from a long-defunct Communist organization whose membership was compulsory in Omarova’s youth. Sen. Pat Toomey, ignoring the few available options to Omarova at the time, wondered whether her views were informed by her participation in a scholarship named after Vladimir Lenin.

 

Questioning the nominee on her academic writings is fair game, though even on that front there is some willful misrepresentation: A much-criticized paper framed as suggesting central economic control really suggests that central banks can be a more effective conduit for free commerce. What ought to be off-limits are spurious accusations of deep-seated anti-American sentiment or affinity for Marxism, which unfortunately seem to have helped sway Democratic senators to all but tank her nomination. The entire conceit of the American experiment is that past is not destiny. Our representatives would do well to keep that in mind.

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