Sen. Tim Scott likely to oppose Scott Garrett to lead Ex-Im Bank

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., questions witnesses on the Senate Banking Committee.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., questions witnesses on the Senate Banking Committee. AP

Sen. Tim Scott is likely to vote against Scott Garrett to lead the Export-Import Bank on Tuesday morning.

It would be the first time the South Carolina Republican voted against the wishes of his party and the Trump administration on a presidential nominee.

“At the end of the day, I have to make my own decision based on what I think is best for the country and for business and frankly, I’m not any more convinced than I was before that Mr. Garrett is right for the opportunity,” Scott told McClatchy on Monday night, the eve of the scheduled Senate Banking Committee vote on Garrett’s nomination.

Scott added he was between “90 and 95 percent sure” he would vote to block Garrett’s nomination from moving to the Senate floor.

Garrett, who was a Republican Congressman from New Jersey until his reelection defeat last year, was a vocal Ex-Im Bank critic during his time in office. In the second half of 2015, he was part of a group of conservatives that succeeded in shutting down the bank’s operations, maligning it as “corporate cronyism” and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Ex-Im Bank, which provides loan guarantees to American companies selling goods to foreign customers, is critical to South Carolina’s economy, as major manufacturing giants such as Boeing, General Electric and others have plants in the state. While the bank was shuttered, GE was forced to shift roughly 400 jobs to France, with some of those coming from the state’s Greenville plant.

Scott alone will not doom Garrett’s nomination from reaching the Senate floor. With the panel’s Republican-to-Democrat ratio 12-11 and all Democrats expected to vote “no,” Republicans could only afford one defection and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., is already on the record saying he plans to oppose Garrett on Tuesday.

Scott’s opposition would strengthen the case against Garrett among other Republicans in the Senate who support the agency and fear President Donald Trump is touting Garrett for the purposes of dismantling it. Next year, there will be 51 Republicans in the Senate, making the margin for success for the GOP even more precarious than it is now.

Assuming Scott votes against Garrett in the Banking Committee on Tuesday, the senator will also be helping spur a potential standoff where none of the bank board nominees will be able to advance.

Republican Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ex-Im foes, have said if Garrett’s nomination is stymied, they will block a whole slate of nominees needed to fulfill a quorum at the bank. For more than a year now the agency has been unable to approve new deals or conduct basic business because Shelby, the former Banking Committee chairman, would not allow enough nominees to be considered to regain full capacity on the board’s panel.

Scott conceded this dynamic was weighing heavily on him as he makes his decision.

“I have thought about that several times. That has been a part to the equation as well, just realizing that I think the White House seems to be dug in on, ‘It’s Garrett or bust,’” Scott said.

He added that should the White House back Shelby and Toomey’s gambit, it “would be a painful outcome, but according to all that I see, it is still the best decision for me to make on Scott Garrett, and then what happens next is something that I can’t control either way.”

Scott and Rounds left Garrett’s confirmation hearing last month unnerved by the nominee’s inability to prove his new resolve to support the bank’s mission after years of fighting its very existence.

At that time, Scott was able to get Garrett to explain that two things had changed. First, should he be confirmed as chairman, Garrett said his job would be to support the institution, which he would do. Second, Garrett said that with Trump now in the White House, 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. At the time, bank supporters considered Garrett’s unwillingness to do so as a sign he may not be fully committed to his job mandate.

Scott said no follow-up correspondence with Garrett since that confirmation hearing has given him given him more confidence that Garrett is prepared for the task.

Emma Dumain: 202-383-6126, @Emma_Dumain