President Joe Biden's pick for a top banking regulatory position said that she was an "anti-communist" while attending school in the Soviet Union and that critics accusing her of radicalism are lashing out against her because of her heritage and gender.
Saule Omarova, a Kazakh-born law professor at Cornell University who graduated college in the USSR, is pushing back on Republicans and business groups for opposing her nomination to be comptroller of the currency. She said that though she attended Moscow State University on the Lenin Personal Academic Scholarship, she does not have Marxist sympathies.
"There is definitely a different standard applied to someone like me," Omarova told the Financial Times. "I am an easy target: an immigrant, a woman, a minority," she added. "I don't look like your typical comptroller of the currency. I have a different history. I am easy to demonize and vilify."
Omarova's nomination drew the ire of Republicans on Capitol Hill over some of her academic musings, including advocating for the end of banking "as we know it."
A recent paper she authored, titled "The People's Ledger: How to Democratize Money and Finance the Economy," offers a blueprint for "radically reshaping the basic architecture and dynamics of modern finance."
She proposes handing the Federal Reserve near-total control of the financial system and suggests the Fed's balance sheet should be reimagined to operate as "the ultimate public platform for both modulating and allocating the flow of sovereign credit and money in the national economy."
She is also facing scrutiny for her time at Moscow State. Sen. Pat Toomey, the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, requested that Omarova hand over a copy of the thesis she wrote while there, titled Karl Marx's Economic Analysis and the Theory of Revolution in The Capital.
Omarova said that she was forced to write the thesis and pointed out that her grandmother was orphaned when the Soviet Union sent her entire family to die in Siberia because they were educated Kazakhs who didn't join the party.
"I was in the Soviet Union, where there was no academic freedom, and this was a mandatory assigned topic. What I wrote in that paper has nothing to do with what I believed in then or in what I believe in now," Omarova said, adding that within a year of attending college in Moscow she had become "an anti-communist" like most of her classmates.
"We were reading stuff that was prohibited. We were listening to Pink Floyd, which was illegal. We were talking about Solzhenitsyn [the author and Soviet dissident]," the law professor recounted.
Toomey's office confirmed to the Washington Examiner that, as of Thursday, Omarova had not turned over her thesis (the deadline he set for her to do so was on Wednesday).
The Pennsylvania Republican has asserted that she deleted references to her thesis on the current iteration of her curriculum vitae, although he claimed the paper was included in her CV as recently as 2017.
"Given that your thesis was written while you were a student at Moscow State University in the late 1980s, I assume that it was written in Russian and will require translation," Toomey said, noting that Banking Committee staff had previously reached out about the paper. "Unfortunately, we have not received any assurances that the committee would receive a copy of the paper in a timely fashion."
Democrats can't afford to lose a single vote in approving Omarova's nomination, given that there is an even number of senators from both parties. Some business groups have actively opposed her nomination and are likely to lobby centrist Democrats to do the same.
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