Trump's Ex-Im Bank Nominee, a Longtime Critic of Agency, to Promise Support for Bank's Operations -- 2nd Update

By Kristina Peterson and Byron Tau Features Dow Jones Newswires

President Donald Trump's choice to head the Export-Import Bank, who has twice voted to shut it down, plans to reverse his position at his nomination hearing on Wednesday, a move that comes amid wavering GOP support for him getting the job.

Continue Reading Below

Former Rep. Scott Garrett will pledge to fully support the operations of the Ex-Im Bank, according to testimony prepared for the hearing released Tuesday.

"If I am confirmed, the Export-Import bank will continue to fully operate, point-blank," Mr. Garrett said in the testimony. "It will continue to approve the many loans that support our American manufacturers' ability to export their products."

Mr. Garrett, a New Jersey Republican who served seven terms in the House before losing last November, faced potential opposition from at least two Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee, which is reviewing the nomination. Industry groups that benefit from the agency, which provides financing for U.S. exports, are pressuring lawmakers to oppose him.

The former lawmaker isn't the first of Mr. Trump's nominees to shift his stance or be appointed to an agency whose existence he had opposed. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has urged lawmakers to keep the government funded and raise its borrowing limit, after voting against both in the House. Energy Secretary Rick Perry called for eliminating his agency before he ran it, while Scott Pruitt was a sharp critic of the Environmental Protection Agency before Mr. Trump tapped him to lead it.

Mr. Garrett is scheduled to testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday, where he faces wavering support from Republicans and opposition from Democrats. Republicans hold just one more seat than Democrats on the panel and at least two Republicans -- Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Mike Rounds of South Dakota -- have signaled they are undecided. Without a majority, his nomination can't advance to the full Senate, a committee spokeswoman said.

Continue Reading Below

Mr. Scott said Tuesday that he still has questions for Mr. Garrett.

"I just want to make sure we harmonize his past stance with his current stance and give me an opportunity to hear how the change has occurred," Mr. Scott said.

Democrats remained skeptical. "We're probably not going to take 20 denials of the bank" in exchange for "a positive one testimony," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), a longtime Ex-Im advocate.

Mr. Trump's own position on the Ex-Im Bank has meandered. He had opposed it at times during the 2016 presidential campaign, but said in an April interview with The Wall Street Journal that he would support it.

The Ex-Im Bank helps support U.S. exports through a wide range of programs, including guaranteeing loans to foreign buyers and providing credit insurance. Its charter ran out in July 2015, preventing it from conducting new business until it was renewed in December 2015 and authorized until September 2019. However, Senate Republicans haven't filled empty board seats, depriving it for the last two years of a quorum and leaving it unable to approve financing for deals of more than $10 million.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said the administration has been preparing Mr. Garrett for his hearing.

"The administration has also been working with Sen. Tim Scott's (R-SC) office on written reassurances that Mr. Garrett will execute the president's policy to have the Ex-Im Bank fully-operational," Ms. Walters said.

Mr. Garrett went through two mock sessions last week that included staffers of Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), according to a person who was briefed on the matter. Dan Murphy, a lobbyist who has previously represented manufacturers, also attended.

Sen. Shelby's spokeswoman and Mr. Murphy didn't respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Toomey pointed to public comments from the senator, saying that advancing Mr. Garrett's nomination was important to get the bank up and running.

Mr. Garrett is widely opposed by many in the business community, which favors renewal of the bank's charter. That has opened a rare fissure between Capitol Hill Republicans and their allies on K Street.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the Aerospace Industries Association have been among the most vocal groups.

The Ex-Im Bank's critics view the agency as "corporate welfare" and an inappropriate interference with the market economy. Some GOP lawmakers and Democrats say the agency is necessary to keep U.S. companies competitive against foreign firms that receive similar help from their governments.

Mr. Garrett voted against legislation reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank in 2012 and again in 2015. In an October 2015 speech, Mr. Garrett called the bank "taxpayer-funded welfare for mega corporations" and the embodiment of "the corruption of the free enterprise system."

One lobbyist for a Fortune 100 manufacturing company said the Garrett nomination had put the business community in "an impossible position." While they want to maintain a good relationship with the White House, they see Mr. Garrett as an unacceptable choice, the lobbyist said.

--

Andrew Ackerman

and Doug Cameron contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com and Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 31, 2017 16:37 ET (20:37 GMT)