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Business groups press David Perdue to reject Trump Ex-Im nominee

WASHINGTON – Georgia’s two U.S. senators are under increasing pressure from local manufacturing groups to reject President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Export-Import Bank, a debate that’s pitting the state’s powerful business community against the more populist elements of the president’s agenda.

Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Congress and National Association of Manufacturers, as well as some of their local affiliates, are on the warpath against former U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, the administration's pick to lead the bank. As a New Jersey congressman, Garrett beat the drum against renewing Ex-Im's charter.

Some are viewing Perdue, a member of the Senate committee that's vetting Garrett on Wednesday, as a possible swing vote.

The Georgia Association of Manufacturers wrote to Perdue last week urging him to reject Garrett “given his longstanding hostility to (the bank’s) mission and his past actions to try to eliminate the agency.”

“Georgia manufacturers are rightfully concerned that he will now empower the agency to achieve its full capability but will instead hobble it," the group wrote.

Once an obscure government-owned entity, Ex-Im has become an embodiment of the GOP's larger tug of war between pro-business and populist interests. Supporters see the bank, which provides loan guarantees to U.S. companies selling good abroad, as an important economic driver for U.S. exporters in a competitive global market. Opponents say it amounts to little more than corporate welfare, since big corporations such as Boeing and GE benefit.

Boosters of Ex-Im say it supports some $4.7 billion in export sales from more than 200 Georgia companies, supporting nearly 30,000 jobs. Meanwhile, conservative groups such as Club For Growth and Heritage Action are holding up Garrett's nomination as a litmus test for GOP lawmakers' Trump-era commitment to "draining the swamp."

Previous fights over the bank's charter have split the state's Republican lawmakers, as well as two of Georgia's largest aviation companies, Delta and Gulfstream. Now the debate returns to the Senate, where members haven't had to weigh in directly in years.

Isakson previously voted to save the bank in exchange for some reforms. (He's still reviewing Garrett's nomination, a spokeswoman said.) Perdue has kept his cards a little closer to the vest.

He voted against reauthorizing Ex-Im last time on procedural grounds since it had been coupled with the highway bill. A former Fortune 500 CEO who headed corporations that relied heavily on trading goods, Perdue said he understood "the need for increasing trade and expanding American exports into emerging markets," but he also cited deep concerns with the bank's structure and taxpayers assuming financial risk.

Which brings us back to today. Perdue hasn't said how he's going to vote on Garrett, who in recent days has softened his rhetoric on the bank amid GOP criticism.

A spokeswoman said that Perdue is “reviewing all of President Trump’s nominees for the Export-Import Bank Board” but would not elaborate further.

Perdue has been one of Trump's most steadfast Senate allies, and he's been particularly deferential when it comes to the president's nominees. With other Republican allies, including South Carolina's Tim Scott, indicating they could go against Garrett, it's unclear how Perdue will cast his vote.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.