Warren accuses GOP senator of 'Red Scare tactics' after he suggests Biden nominee is a communist because of where she was born

Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on September 28, 2021.Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images
  • Warren blasted Kennedy after he suggested Biden's nominee for comptroller of the currency, Saule Omarova, is a communist.

  • Omarova was born in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era, but came to the US in 1991 and is a citizen.

  • "Sexism, racism, pages straight out of Joe McCarthy's 1950s Red Scare tactics," Warren said in response to Kennedy.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren ripped into Sen. John Kennedy on Thursday after the Louisiana Republican suggested that President Joe Biden's nominee for comptroller of the currency, Saule Omarova, is a communist.

"I don't know whether to call you professor or comrade," Kennedy said to Omarova, a Cornell University law professor, during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

"Senator, I'm not a communist," Omarova replied. "I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born."

"My family suffered under the communist regime," Omarova added, noting that her grandmother "escaped death twice" under the regime of Joseph Stalin. "I'm proud to be an American," she said.

Kennedy asked Omarova about her membership in a youth communist group when she was growing up in Kazakhstan. She responded by emphasizing that membership was compulsory and a normal aspect of growing up in that part of the world at the time.

Warren blasted Kennedy over his comments.

"Sexism, racism, pages straight out of Joe McCarthy's 1950s Red Scare tactics … Welcome to Washington in 2021," the Massachussetts senator said, referencing an era during the Cold War when Sen. Joe McCarthy fomented paranoia about communism infiltrating the US.

Omarova was born in Kazakhstan while it was still a part of the Soviet Union. She went to Moscow State University and came to the US in 1991, ultimately becoming a citizen. Omarova worked in the Treasury Department under the administration of President George W. Bush.

If confirmed, Omarova would oversee an agency that regulates and supervises all national banks. She's widely considered a leading expert in her field.

"Saule is widely regarded as one of the top financial regulatory scholars in the world," Jeremy Kress, an assistant professor of business law at the University of Michigan, recently told NPR. "Whether you agree with her, or disagree with her, you can't have a complete debate about current topics in US banking law and US financial regulation without taking into account what Saule has written on the topic."

But Republican critics have pushed against her nomination based on some of her academic work, including a paper that floated offering bank accounts to Americans via the Federal Reserve. Opponents of Omarova have painted her as a radical who wants to nationalize the banking system, or make it government-run.

GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the ranking member on the committee, has been a particularly outspoken opponent of Omarova.

"She clearly has an aversion to anything like free market capitalism," Toomey said on the Senate floor last month.

In her opening remarks and testimony on Thursday, Omarova emphasized that she strongly supports capitalism and community banks.

"If I am confirmed to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, my top priority will be to guarantee a fair and competitive market where small and mid-size banks that invest in their neighbors' homes and small businesses can thrive," she said.

Republicans in recent years have frequently labeled Democrats as socialists or communists, even when their political philosophies or voting records are moderate.

Biden was decried as a socialist on the campaign trail by former President Donald Trump and his allies in 2020, despite having a well-documented record as a centrist who has often collaborated with Republicans. GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, for example, during the 2020 Republican National Convention said that Biden wanted to turn the country into a "socialist utopia."

Polling shows that most Americans still have a negative view of socialism, but younger voters tend to express more favorable views of it as an economic model.

"'Socialism' itself has lost some of its edge for many Americans, since they might associate it with European welfare states that aren't all that threatening," Thomas Alan Schwartz, a Vanderbilt University historian and political scientist, told Insider in September.

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