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Biden’s pick for top bank regulator withdraws after accusations of being a communist

Saule T. Omarova during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Sept. 18, 2018. (U.S. Senate/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

President Joe Biden’s pick to serve as the country’s top banking regulator withdrew her nomination after Republican scrutiny about her Soviet upbringing and concerns among moderate Democrats.

Saule Omarova, a Kazakh-American law professor, had been tapped by the White House to be the next head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a position that has wide oversight of the U.S. banking system.

The White House said on December 7 that she had pulled herself from consideration after her nomination was put in doubt by several Republican senators who accused her of being a communist, as well as concerns from moderate Democrats about her positions on banking reform.

During her confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Banking Committee, several Republican senators grilled her on her upbringing, asking her about her time in Komsomol, the communist youth organization that millions of Soviet teenagers belonged to, often as a way of enhancing their employment and academic prospects.

Born in Soviet Kazakhstan, Omarova immigrated to the United States in 1991 and later became a U.S. citizen.

Senator Pat Toomey (Republican-Pennsylvania) pressed Omarova on her undergraduate studies at Moscow State University, before the Soviet collapse, where she wrote a paper about Karl Marx. Another senator, John Kennedy (Republican-Louisiana), said: “I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade.”

Democrats rushed to Omarova’s defense, saying some of the criticism bore the hallmarks of the Red Scare that plagued the United States after World War II.

Omarova responded to the comments by lawmakers by saying that she is not a communist, doesn’t “subscribe to that ideology,” and “could not choose where I was born.”

“My family suffered under the communist regime,” she said. “I grew up without knowing half of my family; my grandmother herself escaped death twice under the Stalin regime. That is what is seared in my mind. That’s who I am. That’s what I remember. I came to this country. I’m proud to be an American.”

In the statement announcing that the White House was withdrawing her nomination, Biden said Omarova was subjected to “inappropriate personal attacks that were far beyond the pale.”