President Joe Biden’s pick for a top banking position was grilled by Republicans during a bruising hearing that featured a dissection of her controversial academic work.

Cornell Law professor Saule Omarova appeared before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday for a hearing on her nomination to be comptroller of the currency. Republicans accused Omarova, a Kazakh immigrant who attended school in the Soviet Union, of wanting to gut the banking industry, and Democrats, in turn, accused Republicans of redbaiting.

While Republicans generally tried to focus on Omarova’s academic musings, which they blasted as radical, her heritage and time living in the Soviet Union were also raised by some lawmakers.

“I don’t mean any disrespect, I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade,” remarked Sen. John Kennedy in perhaps the most pointed attack during Thursday’s hearing.


“Senator, I’m not a communist. I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born,” she responded.

Sen. Pat Toomey, the top Republican on the committee, cited Omarova's writings. He took aim at one paper in which she calls for the end of banking “as we know it.” He also critiqued a plan she outlined for nationalizing retail banking and pushed back on the notion that her ideas were just scholarly “thought experiments.”

“Taken in their totality, her ideas amount to a socialist manifesto for American financial services: nationalizing the banking system, putting in price controls, and creating a command-and-control economy where the government allocates resources instead of free men and women making their own decisions about the goods and services they want to buy and sell in an open market,” the Pennsylvania Republican said.

Omarova testified that she does not actually want to “end banking as we know it” and asserted that she believes the United States has the best banking system in the world, although it could be improved.

Some Republicans also focused on the fact that Omarova did not fulfill their request to provide a copy of her thesis from her time at Moscow State University. She claimed that she was forced to write the paper and that she has little recollection about what it was even about, but Republicans pointed out that it was still listed on her resume until a few years ago.

Omarova also faced scrutiny for her recent comment that “we want” oil and gas companies to go bankrupt in order to fight climate change. Omarova conceded that she shouldn’t have framed her argument the way she did.

“That was poor phrasing, I admit to it,” Omarova told lawmakers. “I do understand that energy companies are a very important part of our American economy … what I was actually saying in that particular presentation is that we need to think collectively about finding new ways to help workers in this sector to transition to higher-paying jobs if we are looking into the future and the rise of new technologies.”

GOP Sen. Tim Scott, who spoke before Kennedy, used his time to defend his party against Democratic accusations of redbaiting and noted that Republicans had not veered from questions related directly to Omarova's nomination, saying “not a single person” had engaged in personal attacks against Omarova. Scott spoke about the various controversial positions Omarova has taken before ending his remarks without asking her a question.

“I don’t have any question for you, because there is nothing you can say today that can undo what you’ve said for years,” the South Carolina Republican said.

Kennedy stood out among the GOP lawmakers for his questions about Omarova’s time in the USSR. He asked whether she used to be part of a group called “the young communists.”

Omarova appeared confused by the question and asked whether he meant the USSR’s youth communist organization, which she said everyone who attended school under the regime was a part of.

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the chairman of the committee, interrupted Kennedy to point out that she renounced her Soviet citizenship.


The Republican message throughout Omarova’s hearing was that she is too radical to hold a top banking position in the Biden administration.

“In my view, professor Omarova’s policy views are too radical, and preserving the prosperity that our free-market economy makes possible is too important, to make her our nation’s top banking regulator,” said Toomey.

Democrats can’t afford to lose even one vote, as it would tank her nomination in the evenly divided Senate.