WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eight U.S. Senate Democrats questioned on Tuesday whether they could trust President Donald Trump's nominee for the top job at the U.S. Export-Import Bank to support renewing the trade lender's charter in 2019 and to believe in its mission.
Scott Garrett, a former Republican congressman from New Jersey who was one of the EXIM Bank's leading opponents during a 2015 fight in Congress to shut it down, "refused to confirm that he would unequivocally support reauthorizing the bank," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and seven other senators said in a statement after meeting with Garrett.
The nominee for EXIM chairman has met with strong opposition from industry groups that use its financing, including the National Association of Manufacturers, which said Garrett had a track record of trying to undermine the institution.
The bank has been unable to approve loans above $10 million for two years because of efforts by conservative Republicans in Congress to shut it down and then block nominations to its board, keeping it from financing large aircraft, satellites, power turbines and other major projects.
Critics have charged that EXIM provides unnecessary "corporate welfare" to large companies such as Boeing <BA.N>, General Electric <GE.N> and Caterpillar <CAT.N>, putting taxpayers at risk. The bank also provides export financing and guarantees for thousands of small manufacturers.
"Today’s meeting was bizarre. Scott Garrett – one of the most vocal opponents of the Export-Import Bank while he was in Congress – agreed to speak with us about his nomination, but during the meeting, he wouldn’t discuss his personal thoughts about the Bank and its mission,” the senators said in a statement.
"The bank has overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress and we need a leader of the bank who also fully stands by its goals," added the senators, who included Democrats Heidi Heitkamp, Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Coons and Joe Donnelly.
Their statement did not say specifically how they would vote on Garrett's nomination. No nomination hearing has been scheduled by the Senate Banking Committee.
A White House spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment on the senators’ statement.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Peter Cooney)