No one is happy with Trump's picks to lead the much-vilified Ex-Im Bank

Trump nominates Ex-Im Bank critic to board

President Donald Trump extended an olive branch to Democrats when he pledged to support the controversial Export-Import Bank last week. But now, his nominees to lead the bank are angering both sides of the aisle.

Trump has named two former Republican congressmen to fill the empty seats on the bank's five-member board. One is a more traditional pick: Spencer Bachus is a moderate from Alabama who served as chairman of the influential House Financial Services committee during the Great Recession. But Trump selected former New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett for the other seat. A founding member of the Freedom Caucus, Garrett has criticized the Ex-Im Bank as a symbol of Washington's "crony capitalism."

"It turns the economy into a biased actor that uses your taxpayer dollars to tilt the scales in favor of its friends," he said in a speech on the House floor in October 2015.

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, one of the bank's most vocal supporters, was measured in her praise of Trump's decision. While she called filling the board a "positive step," she said she still has "reservations" about the nominees. Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) was more direct.

"Once again, President Trump has selected a nominee to lead an agency that individual believes should not exist and has tried to destroy," he said in a statement. "If former Rep. Garrett is confirmed to lead the Bank, it would be the ultimate act of sabotage."

Sen. Heitkamp: Key piece of Trump's trade agenda missing

The Ex-Im Bank provides financing for U.S. exporters through insurance and loan guarantees and lends directly to foreign entities seeking to purchase American goods. The bank has been hailed by Democrats as a linchpin of domestic manufacturing and vilified by conservatives as a giveaway to big corporations. Many other large economies, including China, have their own version of Ex-Im or something similar, and they can provide big advantages when multiple countries are competing for business overseas.

"Without Ex-Im, you're putting U.S. exporters at a competitive disadvatage, which make no sense when one of the top goals of the Trump administration is to increase exports," said Bill Lane, retired global government affair director for Caterpillar, another big beneficiary of the bank.

Though 90 percent of its transactions are with small businesses, the biggest single beneficiary is Boeing. In fiscal year 2014, the company accounted for 40 percent of the $20.5 billion of total bank authorizations, according to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation. That has earned it the ire of the Freedom Caucus, which refused to reauthorize the 83-year-old bank in 2015, temporarily shutting it down. The bank was eventually restored, but with two vacancies on its board — preventing it from authorizing transactions larger than $10 million.

Trump: 'It actually makes money'

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to end the bank. But he publicly changed positions last week after meeting with business executives at the White House, including former Boeing CEO James McNerney.

"Instinctively you would say it's a ridiculous thing but actually it's a very good thing and it actually makes money," Trump told the Wall Street Journal.

At least one conservative signaled he is not backing down on his opposition. Freedom Caucus member Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan tweeted over the weekend that the bank "steals from taxpayers to subsidize big corporations." Amash and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah have previously introduced legislation that would end the bank.

Other key Republicans have expressed skepticism about the bank. Speaker Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) said in 2014 that he wanted to eliminate the institution. And Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby refused to bring up President Barack Obama's nominee to Ex-Im board when he was chairman of the Senate banking committee.

But House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R.-Texas) appeared open to compromise on Monday. In a statement, he said he was hopeful that the nominees could help "safeguard taxpayer dollars."

"With Ex-Im so captured by special interests, the president was right to choose principled leaders like these to safeguard the agency against further mission creep, fraud, waste and abuse," he said.

Trump's picks must also win Senate confirmation. Hearing dates have not yet been set.