Republicans boycott hearing to prevent Muslim nominee’s confirmation | Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Grassley, and Rep. Boebert bring bigotry into Congress
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Five centrist Democrats have killed the nomination of Saule Omarova to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, assisting Republicans—intentionally or unintentionally–in winning their ‘red scare’ campaign.
Omarova is a professor of law at Cornell, an expert on the banking industry, and previously worked as an advisor in the Dept. of the Treasury. She supports the Green New Deal and advocates for reforming the Federal Reserve.
Despite her qualifications, Republicans have focused on her heritage as their main line of attack. Omarova was born in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic and attended Moscow State University where she wrote a thesis on the political philosophy of Karl Marx. She move to the states in 1991, earning a Ph.D. in political science and a Juris Doctor degree.
The rightwing media has been against her nomination from the start:
Fox News ran a big story crowing that Omarova “could be the next Biden nominee to go down” alongside a large photo of Marx. Network exile Bill O’Reilly proclaimed that “what this woman wants … [is] communism,” while RealClearPolitics ran with the headline “Biden Is Nominating Soviet-Trained Radicals Now.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board asserted that her “radical ideas might make even Bernie Sanders blush” and that she “still believes the Soviet economic system was superior.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) piled on the red scare tactics during Omarova’s nomination hearing, questioning her participation in Soviet society (clip):
Kennedy: You used to be a member of a group called the Young Communists, didn’t you?
Omarova: Senator, are you referring to my membership in the Youth Communist organization while I was growing up in the Soviet Union?
Kennedy: I don’t know, I wanted to ask you that question…Well the formal name of it is “The Leninist Communist Youth Union of the Russian Federation” and it’s also known as “The Leninist Komsomol of the Russian Federation,” and it’s commonly referred to as the Youth Communists. Were you a member?
Omarova: Senator, I was born and grew up in the Soviet Union.
Kennedy: Yes, ma’am, but were you a member of that organization?
Omarova: Everybody in that country was a member of the Komsomol, which was the communist youth organization, because that was—
Kennedy: So, you were a member.
Omarova: —that was a part of normal progress in school.
Kennedy: Did you…have you resigned?
Omarova: You grow out of it with age.
Kennedy: Did you send them a letter, though, resigning?
Omarova: Senator, this was many many years ago. As far as I remember how the soviet union worked was at a certain age, you automatically stop being a member.
Kennedy: Could you look at your records and see if you can find a copy of your resignation?
Senate Bank Committee Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) interrupted to point out that Omarova renounced her Soviet citizenship. Kennedy then went on to list her past comments that he viewed as critical of the American financial system, before saying (clip):
Kennedy: I don’t mean any disrespect…I don’t know whether to call you ‘professor’ or ‘comrade.’
Omarova: Senator, I’’m not a communist. I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born… my family suffered under the communist regime. I grew up without knowing half of my family. My grandmother herself escaped death twice under the Stalin regime. This is what’s seared in my mind. That’s who I am. I remember that history. I came to this country. I’m proud to be an American and this is why I’m here today. Senator, I’m here today because I’m ready for public service.
Days after Kennedy went full Joseph McCarthy, five Democrats reportedly declared their opposition to Omarova’s confirmation, effectively sinking her nomination: Banking Committee members Jon Tester (MT), Mark Warner (VA), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)—with the support of Sens. John Hickenlooper (CO) and Mark Kelly (AZ)—refuse to vote in her favor.
Why would Democrats assist the GOP in killing Omarova’s nomination? The answer lies in the banking industry, which is hellbent on avoiding a tough regulator sure to shake things up.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) perceptively brought up the real motivations behind attacks on Omarova during her hearing (clip):
Warren: Professor Omarova, I know that the giant banks object to your willingness to enforce the law to keep our system safe and that you may cut into big bank profits. So the giant banks and their Republican buddies have declared war on you. The attacks on your nomination have been vicious and personal — we’ve just seen it. Sexism, racism, pages straight out of Joe McCarthy’s 1950s red scare tactics — it is all there on full display. Welcome to Washington in 2021.
Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Dilawar Syed, a Pakistani American businessman, for the fifth time last week. Syed was nominated to the number two spot in the Small Business Administration. If confirmed, he would be the highest-ranking Muslim-American in the Biden administration.
However, every Republican on the Senate Small Business Committee boycotted the vote for Syed before Thanksgiving break, effectively preventing his confirmation unless it is resubmitted next year. GOP senators have cited a variety of reasons for their opposition. Most recently, they cited the Biden administration’s refusal to refund PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] funds given to organizations that partner with Planned Parenthood. There’s one problem with this argument: The loans were made under Trump’s administration, not Biden’s.
Before citing PPP loans as their reason for obstructing Syed’s nomination, Republicans on the Small Business Committee raised racist concerns over his Muslim heritage and work with Muslim advocacy groups. A diverse coalition of faith groups spoke out in Syed’s favor:
American Jewish Committee (AJC) does not normally take positions on nominees requiring Senate confirmation. However, accusations around Dilawar Syed’s nomination based on his national origin or involvement in a Muslim advocacy organization are so base and unamerican that AJC is compelled to speak out.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) helped lead the opposition campaign, circulating an email in June that accused Syed of being antisemitic for associating with a group that criticized the Israeli government.
In written responses to questions from senators about his views on Israel and Emgage, Syed said he does not support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, also known as BDS, that’s backed by some progressive Palestinian rights activists to push back on the Israeli government. He added that he’s “supported engagement with Israeli businesses” throughout his career and would resign from the board of Emgage if confirmed — stating that his work with the organization has been limited to voter mobilization and engagement work, not policy advocacy.
Last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley—the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member—attempted to compliment a Korean American judge during her confirmation hearing. Instead of praise, Grassley’s remarks built on a harmful racial stereotype and inadvertently revealed his inner prejudice (clip):
What you said about your Korean background reminded me a lot of what my daughter-in-law of 45 years has said. If I’ve learned anything from Korean people, it’s a hard work ethic. And how you can make a lot out of nothing. So I congratulate you and your people.
Grassley faced broad criticism for casting Asian Americans as the “model minority,” a concept that suggests Asian Americans are more successful than other minority groups because they work harder. This myth is particularly harmful during a period of racially motivated violence against Asian Americans, perpetuated by rightwing coronavirus propaganda.
The “model minority” image stratifies non-White racialized groups by pitting the “good minorities” (Asian Americans) against “bad minorities” (Black/African Americans). But both communities are systematically deemed divergent from the White cultural norm — or “othered.” Further, this drives a wedge in a long history of cross-racial solidarity between Black and Asian American communities.
Our research shows that the model minority myth does three things: first, obscures anti-Asian American racism; second, renders Asian Americans invisible to broader society; and third, implies that Asian Americans don’t need anti-racist programs.
In a viral video over Thanksgiving, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) added to her pile of Islamophobic comments, implying that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is a terrorist (clip):
Actually I have an Ilhan story for you. So, uh, the other night on the House floor was not my first Jihad Squad moment. I was getting into an elevator with one of my staffers. He and I, you know, we’re leaving the Capitol and we’re going back to my office and we get an elevator and I see a Capitol police officer running to the elevator. I see fret all over his face, and he’s reaching, and the door’s shutting, like I can’t open it, like what’s happening. I look to my left, and there she is. Ilhan Omar. And I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack, we should be fine.’ ”
The crowd applauded and laughed. Republican leaders, like Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), were silent.
“[T]his whole story is made up,” Omar said on Twitter. “Anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t funny & shouldn’t be normalized. Congress can’t be a place where hateful and dangerous Muslim tropes get no condemnation.”
Boebert issued an “apology,” not to Omar but to anyone who might have been offended by her comments.
I apologize to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar. I have reached out to her office to speak with her directly. There are plenty of policy differences to focus on without this unnecessary distraction.
Yesterday, Boebert doubled down and essentially undid her attempted apology. According to Omar:
Today, I graciously accepted a call from Rep. Lauren Boebert in the hope of receiving a direct apology for falsely claiming she met me in an elevator, suggesting I was a terrorist, and for a history of anti-Muslim hate. Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Rep. Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments. She instead doubled down on her rhetoric and I decided to end the unproductive call.
Boebert posted a video to Instagram giving her side of the story, confirming that she refused to issue a public apology directly to Omar:
I have reflected on my previous remarks, now as a strong Christian woman who values faith deeply I never want anything I say to offend someone’s religion. So I told her that. Even after I put out a public statement to that effect, she said that she still wanted a public apology because what I had done wasn’t good enough. So I reiterated to her what I had just said. She kept asking for a public apology so I told Olhan Omar that she should make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, antisemitic, anti-police rhetoric.
Republican Senators Ted Cruz (TX), Josh Hawley (MO), and Marco Rubio (FL) have effectively blocked the confirmation of dozens of Biden’s nominees so far, and show no sign of letting up.
Earlier this month, Rubio announced he would slow-walk Biden’s nominees to be the U.S. ambassadors to China and Spain: Nicholas Burns and Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón, respectively. In a press release, Rubio stated that Burns doesn’t understand “the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.” He also called Pantaleón a “Castro sympathizer” and an “envoy for dictators.”
Any senator can put a “hold” on a nominee, forcing the Majority Leader to use scarce floor time to attempt to advance the nomination. Due to (1) the large number of holds and (2) the high volume of regular legislation in the Senate, issuing a hold on a nominee could stall confirmation for a long period of time.
The State Department has been the focus of holds issued by Cruz. There are currently 85 State Dept. nominations pending before the Senate. Of that, 51 are waiting for full Senate confirmation and nearly all of them are subject to holds.
Sen. Hawley said in September that he would place holds on all of Biden’s national security nominees until National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin resign due to what Hawley calls a botched Afghanistan withdrawal.
Two foreign policy analysts criticized the senator’s misuse of hold to sabotage the Biden administration:
The Constitution ultimately empowers the president with the conduct of the nation’s foreign policy; for Sen. Hawley to block President Biden from appointing anyone and everyone he wants is to thwart the design of the Constitution and to escalate the imposition of a hold to the taking of political hostages.
Hawley’s obstruction extends beyond Senate holds. Out of 118 nominees that received confirmation votes, Hawley voted in favor of just four. He has not voted to confirm a nominee on the floor since June 15. “I just don’t think they’re good choices,” Hawley said. “I don’t think they’d be good for my state, I don’t think they’d be good for the country.”