WASHINGTON — U.S. senators vetting President Trump’s leadership nominations for the Export Import Bank of the United States voiced serious concerns about Scott Garrett, who as a congressman voted against the export-credit agency.
During a Nov. 1 confirmation hearing, several Democrats on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee said they were unwilling to support Garrett as the bank’s next president.
“Confirming Mr. Garrett as president of Ex-Im would be like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said in his opening statement.
“I believe in this bank, [but] I’m not sure you do,” said Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). “And that’s a big problem for me.”
Thanks to vacancies on the bank’s board, Ex-Im Bank has for two years been unable to finance deals larger than $10 million, closing the doors on export-credit financing for several industries including space and satellites.
At least two satellite orders — Boeing’s ABS-8 and Orbital ATK’s Azerspace-2 — both fell through due to the lapse of Ex-Im Bank’s charter.
American satellite manufacturers have used the export-credit agency to win contracts against competition mainly in Europe, but also Japan, Russia and China, though some recent contracts have closed without such assistance. Boeing, which has won two geostationary satellite orders and one for seven medium-Earth orbit satellites without Ex-Im, has repeatedly said that the bank’s absence has still hurt the company’s competitiveness regardless.
Garrett strove to assure senators that he wouldn’t take charge of the bank to destroy it but to revive it.
“Rest assured that I am committed to keep the bank fully open and fully operational, period,” Garrett said. “It will continue to operate, it will continue to receive and review and pass loans that will help manufacturing in this country … let me be clear again and leave no doubt in anyone’s mind on this point that I will carry out the president’s mission and I will see to it that the bank is fully operating,” he said.
But Garrett’s record of opposition to Ex-Im as a congressman left many unconvinced. As a congressman from New Jersey, Garrett called for shutting down the bank and voted in 2015 against Ex-Im reauthorization.
“That’s a 180-degree switch on this issue in under two years… I don’t understand why anyone should believe what you are saying now. How do we know you aren’t hoping to get confirmed so you can go back to what you really want to do, and that is kill the bank that embodies ‘the corruption of the free enterprise system’?” asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), quoting a statement Garrett made in 2015.
Garrett said the change in White House leadership caused his change of heart. Trump’s agenda is one he is fully aligned with, Garrett said, which requires strengthening U.S. exports. Garrett added that he would implement reforms introduced in 2015 when the bank was finally reauthorized after a five-month hiatus.
Garrett, however, declined to recant his previous statements about the bank despite prodding from members of the committee.
“You are not willing to let us really know why you are here other than what I believe is to implode the Ex-Im Bank, and I can’t support that” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev).
Five other nominees for Ex-Im Bank leadership — Kimberly Reed for vice president, Spencer Bachus, Judith DelZoppo Pryor and Claudia Slacik as board members, and Mark Greenblatt as inspector general — also appeared at the confirmation hearing, but senators reserved their most pointed questions for Garrett.
Garrett did receive support from the committee’s chairman, Sen. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), and Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Penn).
Crapo described Garrett as a “longtime public servant, who will bring transparency and efficiency to the Bank’s operations.”
“Congressman Garrett has committed to pursue regular Ex-Im board meetings to transparently and thoroughly review the bank’s transactions,” Crapo said in his opening statement. “He has also committed that under his leadership, the Bank will remain fully functional, operating in a fair manner to support American jobs and provide maximum value to the U.S. taxpayer.”
Toomey said he is willing to support the confirmation of all six nominees, but under the condition that Scott Garrett is confirmed first.
“As long as that is the case and Scott Garrett is confirmed by the United States Senate, then I will support as I say, reconstituting the quorum on the board. If not, then I will do everything that I can to prevent Ex-Im from getting a quorum,” he said.
Without a quorum, the bank will remain unable to finance satellite deals and other such big-ticket projects.