President Donald Trump is standing behind former Rep. Scott Garrett, his choice to head the Export-Import Bank, amid escalating pressure from business groups to pull the plug on the nomination.
“Scott Garrett is imminently [sic] qualified to lead the Ex-Im Bank,” White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom said in a statement to POLITICO. "The President stands behind his nomination and is looking forward to his confirmation.”
Trump’s defense of the New Jersey Republican comes as rumors swirl that Garrett may withdraw amid fears that his nomination will not win enough votes to clear the Senate. Lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns about him, largely because he strongly opposed the bank while serving in Congress. The Senate Banking Committee, which will be responsible for vetting his nomination, has not yet received his paperwork.
Administration officials said Garrett’s nomination has been a topic of conversation among senior Trump aides in recent days. Aides have pointed to intensifying blowback from influential business associations that are allied with the president, including an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal last week blasting Garrett by National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons.
Trump has sought to cultivate close ties with business groups and powerful CEOs. He has met with more than 330 corporate executives since taking office, often relying on them to drive his policy agenda. The president also set up a manufacturing advisory council packed with NAM members.
An administration official and other people tracking the issue said Garrett could be summoned to the White House to talk with Trump about his nomination as soon as this week. Strom, the White House spokeswoman, did not respond to inquiries about the potential meeting. Garrett did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
During his career in Congress, Garrett was one of the most outspoken critics of the bank, which guarantees loans for foreign buyers of U.S. exports. In 2015, he said the agency "embodies the corruption of the free enterprise system."
His record has driven businesses that rely on the agency to try to stop his nomination, even though they also want the Senate to confirm nominees who would fill out out its board. The bank has been unable to approve deals worth more than $10 million because of a lack of a quorum.
Further complicating Garrett’s nomination is controversy around his views on homosexuality, which contributed to his failed reelection bid in 2016 after major corporate donors declined to continue backing him.
As POLITICO first reported in 2015, Garrett told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting that he refused to pay National Republican Congressional Committee dues because the group recruited gay candidates. He later denied that he opposed gay candidates and said his problem was with support for same-sex marriage.
The White House has said that under prior leadership, the bank had become "another form of corporate welfare" and that Garrett would "refocus Ex-Im on its original mission of providing support for the businesses that truly need it while protecting taxpayers."
Though the White House first announced his nomination in April, lobbyists waited until recently to begin publicly mounting an aggressive opposition effort.
Timmons said in the Wall Street Journal op-ed that the nomination should be withdrawn because it represented “a terrible trade deal for our country.”
The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce then called on two Republican senators who could be key to Garrett’s confirmation, Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, to oppose him.
Graham later told Bloomberg Television that he would “try to get the administration to give us a better nominee.” Scott is a member of the Senate Banking Committee, where Republicans will have a one-vote margin to approve Garrett’s nomination if Democrats withhold support.
South Carolina is home to plants operated by Boeing and General Electric, two of the most prominent beneficiaries of the agency. Tim Keating, Boeing’s senior vice president of government operations, said the company found it difficult to support anyone "who has not supported the bank and made public statements to that effect."
"We don’t have any explanation as to why now he wants to lead the entity that he said he wanted to shut down," said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in an interview Friday. "Nor do we have any sense that he’s committed to using the position as chairman to ensuring the bank does its work."
Veronique de Rugy, who has fought to close the bank as a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, said Garrett’s opponents wanted someone “who will say yes to everything, who will change nothing, who will make no reforms, who will guarantee it’s the same business as usual.”
“I’m curious to see if he will be as anti-Ex-Im or even as reform-minded once he’s the president of Ex-Im as he was when he was in Congress,” she said. “It’s a big ‘if.’”