Ex-Im Bank nominee gave ‘the right answers,’ but Tim Scott still undecided

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is still struggling with whether to vote for Scott Garrett to lead the Export-Import Bank following his confirmation hearing.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is still struggling with whether to vote for Scott Garrett to lead the Export-Import Bank following his confirmation hearing. AP

Scott Garrett’s bid to chair the Export-Import Bank remained uncertain Wednesday as South Carolina Republican Tim Scott, a pivotal vote for or against confirmation, still had reservations after questioning the nominee at a confirmation hearing.

“(Garrett) had the right answers,” Scott told McClatchy in an interview later in the day. “I just need to have more confidence in those answers.”

Viewed as a lawmaker who could make or break Garrett’s chances of being confirmed by the full Senate, Scott’s indecision means he will continue to be a target of lobbying from powerful factions on both sides of the debate in the weeks and months ahead.

The Senate Banking Committee held a two-hour hearing Wednesday morning on whether Garrett should head the bnank, which provides loan guarantees to American companies selling goods to foreign customers.

With all 46 Democrats and two independents expected to oppose Garrett on the Senate floor, Republicans can only afford to lose two of their own before they need Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie. Three Republican no votes will sink the Garrett nomination entirely.

A supporter of the Ex-Im Bank and its significant contributions to South Carolina’s manufacturing economy, Scott was particularly jarred by Garrett’s inability to fully explain why he wants to run an organization he once sought to undermine, and at what point did he experience a change of heart.

As a longtime New Jersey Republican member of Congress until his election defeat last year, Garrett played a central role in blocking the Ex-Im Bank’s reauthorization for several months in 2015, maligning it as “corporate cronyism” and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Scott was able to get Garrett to explain that two things had changed since then. In his new role as Ex-Im Bank chairman, he explained, his job would be to support the institution, which he would do. Garrett also said that with Trump now in the White House, he believed the Ex-Im Bank would fit into a better model for growing American competitiveness at home and abroad.

Garrett would not, however, say he regretted or wished to retract past statements he’d made opposing the bank’s existence. Supporters of the Ex-Im Bank considered Garrett’s unwillingness to do so as a sign he may not be fully committed to his job mandate.

“It is ... a 180 degree turn,” Scott reflected after the hearing. “I’m not yet fully comfortable with his answer ... It makes me question how he will fulfill his job responsibility,”

I can’t look into his heart and see what his intentions are

Sen. Tim Scott on Ex-Im Bank Chairman nominee Scott Garrett

Another Republican senator on the committee, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, also expressed reservations to Garrett. Rounds, like Scott, said he was still waiting for Garrett, publicly or privately, to reconcile his past actions with current thinking.

Rounds actually suggested he had some trouble believing Garrett was truly a changed man.

“As a man of principle, I believe you truly believe the statements what you made,” Rounds told Garrett at the hearing. “What would have made you change your mind about whether the Export-Import Bank should exist?”

Scott did say he was surprised by Garrett’s clarity that he would keep the Ex-Im Bank open and fully functional and support reauthorization in 2019, when the charter will need to be renewed.

“He was crystal clear, clear as a bell and reinforced it publicly,” said Scott. “We had anticipated him being a little murky.”

But if Garrett expected that his promise to keep the Ex-Im Bank operational would be enough to satisfy skeptics, it wasn’t having the immediate desired effect.

For committee Democrats, Garrett’s rermarks were not nearly reassuring enough. That many Republicans who oppose the bank are giddy at the prospect of Garrett’s confirmation doesn’t dispel an impression that Garrett just wants a job — any job — in the administration. In refusing to take back past statements opposing the bank, Garrett is also sending a signal to these Ex-Im Bank detractors that he still secretly on their side.

Conservative advocacy groups such as Heritage Action and Club for Growth are actually urging Senators to oppose other nominees to fill the Ex-Im Bank board unless Garrett is confirmed. Not confirming new members to the board will continue to stymie the bank’s functionality.

Scott told McClatchy that Club for Growth him contacted over the weekend about supporting Garrett, while the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce continued to pressure its home state senator to oppose him. So far, however, Scott said he didn’t feel pressure from any outside party to vote a certain way.

“I feel the pressure to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s an important vote for the state, but also for the nation.”

Emma Dumain: 202-383-6126, @Emma_Dumain