One of the Senate’s most bipartisan committees is about to engage in a political battle over President Donald Trump’s nomination of former Rep. Scott Garrett to lead the Export-Import Bank.
The White House formally tapped the New Jersey Republican Monday to head the agency over the objections of Democrats, who have tried to convince the administration to back off from plans to appoint one of the bank’s biggest critics to be its president.
Before he can be confirmed by the Senate, Garrett will need to be vetted by the Banking Committee, where Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have attempted to work hand-in-hand over the last several months.
When the committee takes up Garrett’s nomination, the confirmation process is likely to unleash the kind of political rancor that has engulfed the rest of the Senate this year. Aides on both sides of the aisle said it will be messy.
While the Democrats alone don’t have the votes to stop Garrett, at least one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has concerns with the nomination.
Tuesday’s announcement appeared to surprise Democrats who thought the White House was taking their complaints seriously. Brown told POLITICO the administration led him to believe it would drop plans to appoint Garrett as the bank’s head.
"I can’t imagine any Democrat will vote for him," Brown said. "And I know a lot of Republicans will be unhappy with it."
The bank’s backers have been clamoring for appointees to fill out a quorum needed to approve deals larger than $10 million. But Garrett, who lost his House seat last year, opposed the existence of the agency while he served in Congress.
Further complicating his nomination, he has attracted criticism for past comments on homosexuality, which weighed on his unsuccessful reelection campaign.
Garrett and other Ex-Im opponents say the bank’s loan guarantees are a form of corporate welfare, while supporters say it is an important tool to promote manufacturing and exports.
Since the administration announced Trump’s intention to nominate Garrett in April, Senate Democrats have tried to convince National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and other White House officials to reconsider.
In addition to Garrett, the administration is nominating former Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) to serve on the bank’s board — a more palatable pick to lead the agency in the eyes of its supporters.
On Tuesday, Brown appeared surprised when a reporter asked him to comment on the White House announcement that Garrett had been formally nominated as its president.
"Are you sure?" he said, walking with an aide. "Have we heard that? … We heard it was going to be reversed."
Brown said he heard that "two or three times over the last month." The message came from the administration, he said, but he declined to name which White House official relayed the information.
"That’s a problem," he said. "I don’t know what to think except it’s going to be a fight."
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), one of the bank’s most outspoken supporters, said she was surprised by the announcement but that the administration never committed to changing course — despite her attempts to persuade them to do so.
They "just listened," she said.
"They had a way to make this work without any controversy at all and they took the controversial method," she said. "I’m going to give him a fair hearing. I’ve never met Scott Garrett. But I’m very concerned about the motivation as the head of the Export-Import Bank."
Democrats have suggested names of additional appointees to the bank’s board.
People familiar with the matter said the candidates included former Export-Import Bank Chief Banking Officer Claudia Slacik and former Overseas Private Investment Corp. Vice President Judith Pryor.
In an interview, Crapo said he "wanted to move as expeditiously as we can" but that he might take some time because he was expecting an additional nominee from the Democrats to be named.
"It may be appropriate for us to wait to get all three and move them together," he said. "I’m waiting to see whether there is any imminent likelihood of another nomination coming."
Crapo said he believed there were enough votes to advance Garrett.
"I don’t want to start down a process that would create some kind of selectivity, where we move some and not others," he said. "We’ll move them together."