Pushback is emerging among conservative Republicans over President Donald Trump's apparent support for the Export-Import Bank, an institution they have pilloried as a giveaway to big businesses.
The Ex-Im bank, as it's called, assists U.S. companies' overseas business by doing things such as guaranteeing loans for foreign buyers of U.S. products, or insuring transactions. The agency takes on credit risks that private companies, including banks, aren't willing to accept.
Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a vocal critic of the bank, is maintaining his opposition, a spokesperson said Friday. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who co-sponsored a bill with Amash to abolish the bank, also said Friday that it should be repealed. And the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action reiterated that it believes the bank should be dismantled. More than 90 lawmakers have previously opposed the bank, according to a list compiled by the group.
"The Export-Import Bank is little more than a corporate welfare agency," Heritage Action said in a statement Friday.
Supporters of Ex-Im point out that such banks exist in one form or another among most developed nations, and U.S. companies would be at a disadvantage without the bank when they're bidding against rivals from Europe, China and elsewhere for overseas deals.
Trump's position on the bank shifted over the course of his presidential campaign. Initially, he rejected the bank, calling it "excess baggage" in a 2015 interview with National Journal. But he later appeared to soften that stance and said last spring that he would make his position clear soon.
On Thursday, two Democratic senators said that Trump indicated he would support the bank following a lunch with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In addition, they said Trump promised to fill two vacant seats on the bank's board, which in the meantime is barred from financing deals of more than $10 million.
"I specifically talked with the president about the need to get the Export-Import Bank up and running," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said. "It's great news he agreed."
Controversy over whether Congress should renew the bank's charter forced it to shut down for several months in 2015. The opposition was led by conservative Republicans — including South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who has been nominated by Trump to serve as head of the Office of Management and Budget. A spokesperson for Mulvaney did not respond to a request for comment.
Last year, the Ex-Im bank said it authorized $5 billion in deals that drove $8 billion worth of exports. It also estimated it supported 52,000 jobs and returned $284 million to the Treasury.
Though the bank said that 90 percent of its authorizations are for small businesses, Boeing is one of its biggest beneficiaries. Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg has urged the administration to support the bank and fill the vacant board positions.
"Ex-Im is a key competitive issue for our U.S. workforce and the 1.5 million American workers in our supply chain nationwide," the company said in a statement. "Ex-Im bank plays an important role in supporting American competitiveness and U.S. manufacturing by leveling the playing field for manufacturers and their suppliers."