The nomination of Cornell Law Professor Saule Omarova to the position of Comptroller of the Currency within the Department of Treasury was unique in a few ways. Had Omarova been confirmed, she would have been the first woman, person of color, and immigrant in the position. In general, conservative opposition to President Biden’s nominees has resulted in extended nomination timelines. In the case of Omarova, material interests of the banking industry and bigoted character attacks combined to decelerate her nomination, ultimately resulting in Omarova withdrawing her nomination.

Born in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1996, Omarova graduated from Moscow State University in 1989 and came to America as an exchange student as the Soviet Union collapsed. This distinctive background became the foundation of baseless character attacks against Omarova which numerous Senators and media outlets latched onto until her withdrawal.

While conservative media immediately latched onto Omarova’s upbringing, labeling her as a “Communist Predator” and “Pro-Soviet,” specific attacks reinforcing this narrative were peddled by the conservative research firm the American Accountability Foundation (A.A.F.), a conservative non-profit opposition research firm founded by former Senate staffers for Republican Jim DeMint, who now runs the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI). Notably, CPI is listed as the “care of name” on the A.A.F.’s founding tax form. Since the A.A.F was founded in January 2021, little is known about its funding sources. Nevertheless, the A.A.F. began with around $600,000 in funding, and projects to have over $1 million in funding in subsequent years.

The A.A.F underwent an aggressive campaign painting Omarova as a communist, pointing to an undergraduate paper she wrote on Karl Marx, out-of-context clips of Omarova speaking, and her birth in a former-Soviet state as evidence of such “communist sympathies.” These attacks made their way into the hearing, where Senators recycled the same attacks levied against Omarova, with Senator Kennedy going so far as to declare that “he didn’t know whether to call her “professor or comrade.”

Alongside, and likely underlying, these bad faith attacks are the material interests of the banking and financial industries. In an unusual move, trade association groups like the American Bankers Association and the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) openly opposed Omarova’s nomination. The financial industry’s core gripe stemmed from an academic paper written by Omarova positing that the business of holding consumer deposits should be taken away from banks and run by the Federal Reserve. The first Democratic Senator to express concerns regarding Omarova’s nomination was Jon Tester, who has been a major recipient of banking industry contributions. Omarova put the matter more plainly:

I believe that the Wall Street lobby doesn't really care about my race or my sex or anything like that. They would have loved me just the way I am if only I stood up for their interests […] But they chose to weaponize my identity because that was the easiest way politically to tank my nomination.”

The culmination of these forces working against Omarova’s nomination is that the entire process, from President Biden’s announcement on September 23rd to Omarova’s decision to withdraw her nomination on December 7th, lasted just 75 days. A stark reminder that the combined forces of the conservative media complex and well-funded industry groups remain an incredible hurdle for progressive nominees of color.

Nomination Timeline


Initial Media Reaction to Omarova


Right-Wing Attacks on Omarova


Attacks Against Omarova During Hearings


Withdrawal of Nomination


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