Export-Import Bank

Did Trump's Ex-Im Bank Nominee Flip-Flop or Is He Being a 'Trojan Horse'?

Rep. Scott Garrett seeks to head the agency he previous sought to end.


Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

It's difficult to know what Scott Garrett professes to believe about the Export-Import Bank.

Back when he was a member of Congress representing New Jersey, Garrett was one of the loudest critics of the credit agency and fought a losing battle against its reauthorization in 2015.

Now that he's been tapped by President Donald Trump to head the Ex-Im Bank, Garrett is singing a different tune. Prior to a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Garrett released a written statement saying he is committed to supporting President Trump's agenda of boosting the manufacturing industry—and that he now supports the Ex-Im Bank's mission, most of which consists of passing out government-backed loans to politically-connected firms.

Is this a standard issue flip-flop? A politician changing his point of view when a new job comes along is certainly not unheard of.

Democrats, though, suspect there's an additional level of subterfuge at work here.

During the hearing, when asked if he'd retract previous statements on the Ex-Im Bank, Garrett didn't directly answer the question, stating that if confirmed he'd execute the law in accordance to the reforms passed in 2015.

"I don't quite know where to go with that." Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio said, "So you've changed your position just to be confirmed?"

"Senator," Garrett responded, "if the question is what has changed since 2015, what we have seen change, is a new administration. What we have seen change is a new agenda… to see to it that the economy actually grows and that businesses are given a fair chance to grow their businesses both nationally and internationally."

Since 2015, the Export-Import Bank's board has been largely vacant, impeding its ability to approve loans of over $10 million. The committee did not vote on Garrett's nomination, but is expected to make a recommendation later this month.

Garrett's testimony stands in sharp contrast to the speech he gave two years ago, with no political appointment on the line.

"We have the opportunity to protect the American taxpayer, and the American Dream and to preserve free enterprise," Garrett said then. "We have the opportunity today to keep the Export-Import Bank out of business. We should take each of those opportunities."

The Export-Import Bank has long been criticized for guaranteeing taxpayer-financed loans that favor large American corporations exporting to foreign countries. It has been derided as "Boeing's Bank," because the multinational airplane manufacturing corporation receives 40 percent of the agency's resources. Only 23 percent of the budget is devoted to loans to small businesses, according to Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center.

When Trump nominated Garrett to head Ex-Im Bank, corporations pushed back. Representatives from both the Aerospace Industries Association and National Association of Manufacturers, called on the Trump administration to withdraw the nomination, fearing he'd be an impediment to the bank's future.

Fellow Republicans don't seem to know what to make of Garrett's about-face, either. "If you're going to be a Trojan horse," Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), warned Garrett, "you won't get confirmed."