Lew, above, so far hasn’t drawn the sharp criticism from the GOP that has greeted several other of President Barack Obama ’s nominees on Capitol Hill.
At the same time, his stint at the firm, which received a $45 billion bailout from the federal government at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, is likely to come under fire.
“But for the intervention of the government, there would likely be no Citigroup today,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance panel, said Monday. “If taxpayers are going to prop up failed banks, they have a right to know what a key executive like Mr. Lew did at that time. The American people will want to know what his role was there and how that might have prepared him for this critical job after the most severe financial crisis and prolonged economic downturn in generations.”
Sen. Bernard Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, has already announced his opposition to Lew for his financial industry ties. Sanders does not serve on the Finance panel.
GOP senators have also signaled their plans to question an investment Lew held from 2007 to 2010 in a venture capital fund based at a site in the Cayman Islands. Although the investment had been disclosed to the Senate in previous confirmation processes, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, suggested last week that Lew had not been entirely forthcoming on the matter.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly hit GOP nominee Mitt Romney for his offshore investments, and Grassley, a senior member on the committee, has made clear he, too, intends to make political hay of the issue.
Democrats have largely dismissed the GOP criticism and have praised Lew’s nomination. Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Monday he hopes Lew will be quickly confirmed. Panel member Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he expects Lew to be “a shoo-in for confirmation.”
Still, Democrats are likely to press Lew on their policy preferences as well.
For example, committee Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio might urge Lew to reverse years of U.S. policy and formally declare China a manipulator of its currency. Despite ample evidence that China keeps the yuan artificially low, administrations of both parties have long declined to slap sanctions on what is one of the United States’ most important trading partners.
Brown said Tuesday he had discussed the issue with Lew and hadn’t decided whether to bring it up at the hearing. Still, he added, “I have been less than satisfied with the administration’s position on it, and I want Lew to do better.”
Other Democrats may seek commitments from Lew to pursue tough financial regulations as part of the Dodd-Frank law (PL 111-203).
After Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who is not on the Finance Committee, met with Lew earlier this month, he issued a statement, saying, “It is clear to me that he is committed to finishing the job on Dodd-Frank financial reform, especially implementing a strong Volcker rule that will put a firewall between hedge-fund style trading and traditional banking.”
Despite the wide latitude historically given to presidents in crafting their teams, Obama has run into considerable opposition to some of his nominees, including former Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense secretary. Still, despite grumbling about administration policies by some Republicans, Lew is expected to be confirmed relatively easily, barring any major surprises Wednesday.