In response to President Biden’s recent pick of the distinguished professor Saule Omarova to be the primary regulator of big banks, Republicans and Wall Street alike have launched xenophobic and sexist attacks against her. These critics of Omarova have only served to highlight her real transgression in their eyes:
She is ready to oversee Wall Street effectively.
Omarova, who was born in Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union, first came to the United States on an exchange program in 1990 after an education that brought her from rural central Asia to Moscow. While she was in Wisconsin, the Soviet Union collapsed and Omarova stayed in the U.S., winning a scholarship that enabled her to earn a P.h.D. She later became an American citizen.
Since then, Omarova has lived a life that is nothing short of the American dream. She had a distinguished academic career and acquired high-level expertise in financial regulation at a major Wall Street law firm, Davis Polk. She also served as special adviser for regulatory policy in the Treasury Department under Republican President George W. Bush.
Omarova, nominated to be the comptroller of the currency, as the main big bank regulator is known, has been called “Bolshevik,” “commie,” and even a “Soviet-trained radical.” Why has she faced such extreme red-baiting in the wake of her nomination? In an interview with the Financial Times, she explained, “I am an easy target: an immigrant, a woman, a minority.”
Omarova isn’t the first nonwhite woman appointed by President Joe Biden who has been depicted as radical or too fringe to serve in their respective positions. Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke faced similar treatment in the wake of their nominations.
But while Saule has been accosted by Republicans during this nomination process, a similar Soviet-born Trump nominee to head the FDIC, Jelena McWilliams, was celebrated by conservatives. The difference? Omarova isn’t promising to be a friend of the very banks she’s supposed to oversee.
See (and retweet) this Twitter thread from Americans for Financial Reform that documents the attacks on Omarova.
Saule Omarova is exactly the kind of person we need as a bank regulator. She has done brilliant research on how the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) — the institution she is nominated to lead — permitted banks to get into derivatives trading, a high-risk, speculative business that doesn’t actually provide any real capital to the economy. Derivatives are intrinsic to Wall Street’s casino, the one that fell apart so catastrophically in 2008 and dragged the American economy into the Great Recession.
Omarova understands how the OCC could make our financial system fairer and safer by enforcing the law and writing regulations in the interests of ordinary people. Given her academic background, combined with her experience in governance and dedication to protecting the public, Omarova would serve as a fair and just comptroller of the currency, holding big banks accountable and working to protect all Americans.
Image by Anthony Quintano on Flickr.
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