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Senate panel rejects Trump’s pick to lead Export-Import Bank, a leader in the effort to shut it down

A man walks away from the U.S. Export-Import Bank in Washington in 2015.
A man walks away from the U.S. Export-Import Bank in Washington in 2015.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

A Senate committee on Tuesday rejected President Trump’s nominee to lead the Export-Import Bank, extending the chaos at the embattled agency whose job is to help U.S. companies sell their goods abroad.

Two Republicans joined all Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee in voting against former Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) to be the bank’s president.

Garrett had been a vocal critic of the Ex-Im Bank and a leader of a conservative effort that shut the bank down for five months in 2015 by blocking its congressional authorization. He and other bank opponents branded the bank’s aid as crony capitalism.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a supporter of the bank, said the vote “sends a clear message that Mr. Garrett lacks the qualifications and commitment” to the bank.

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Opened during the Great Depression, the bank helps U.S. companies sell their products overseas by providing loan guarantees to foreign buyers and other assistance for sales of goods manufactured domestically.

Many other countries have similar export-credit agencies. The aid is crucial for projects in developing nations, which often require government-backed financing and scare private banks because of fears of default.

The Ex-Im Bank is backed by business groups and enjoys bipartisan support.

Some conservative lawmakers and groups such as Heritage Action for America strongly oppose the bank. They have said its assistance is corporate welfare that mostly helps large companies such as Boeing. Co. and General Electric Co. that don’t need the aid.

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Supporters of the bank note that Boeing funnels billions of dollars in business to U.S. suppliers, including many in California.

During his campaign for president, Trump said he didn’t think the bank was needed. But after taking office, Trump indicated he supported the bank as a way to boost U.S. exports. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross suggested the bank’s mission should change to focus its aid on small businesses.

This spring, Trump surprisingly nominated Garrett — who lost his reelection bid last year — to fill the bank’s vacant president position and lead a reform effort.

The National Assn. of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups that strongly support the bank publicly opposed Garrett’s nomination, arguing that he was not suited for the job.

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After a contentious nomination hearing last month, Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) bucked Trump and Senate Republican leaders to join Democrats on Tuesday in opposing Garrett. The nomination was defeated in a 13-10 vote.

“I believe he’s a principled man who simply believes in the abolishment of the bank,” Rounds said after the vote.

Democrats said Garrett’s past views made him the wrong person for the job.

Sen Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) described Garrett as “a leader of the effort to slam shut the doors of America’s export financing bank, and he cannot hide his contempt for Ex-Im.”

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Brown said Garrett voted repeatedly against congressional reauthorization of the bank and could not provide “a straight answer” at his confirmation hearing about why he now wanted to lead it.

Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, said after the vote that Trump administration officials were “disappointed that the Senate Banking Committee missed this opportunity to get the Export-Import Bank fully functioning again.”

“We will continue to work with the committee on a path forward,” Short said.

Republican opponents in Congress had succeeded in blocking votes on nominees by former President Obama to the bank’s board. That hobbled the bank by leaving it short of the quorum needed to approve assistance for larger projects.

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As a result, Brown said, the bank has about $37.5 billion worth of projects awaiting approval.

Trump also nominated four people, including former Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), to fill the other open seats on the bank’s five-member board.

Those nominees were all easily approved by the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, although three Republicans — Richard Shelby of Alabama, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska — who supported Garrett as a bank reformer voted against those nominees in an apparent protest for his defeat.

Brown said he hoped Republicans would bring those nominees to a full Senate vote by the end of the year to get the bank fully functioning again.

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“To put it plainly, we have lost American jobs because of the games that have been played with the Export-Import Bank,” he said. “Our manufacturers and their employees don’t have a level playing field when competing for overseas business.”

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera

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