WASHINGTON – Maryland newspaper and magazine publisher Philip Merrill arrived on Capitol Hill Friday morning to start what is expected to be an unusually quick confirmation as head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
Merrill was flanked by Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and John Warner, R- Va., who enthusiastically praised the nominee and his long list of accomplishments to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
“First of all, the job requires someone who understands business, banking and management,” Mikulski said. “Mr. Merrill is an innovator, an entrepreneur and a successful businessman. So he knows how to read a bottom line.”
Merrill is chairman of Capital-Gazette Communications, which publishes Washingtonian magazine and The (Annapolis) Capital, along with several smaller newspapers. He would have to relinquish control of them while serving at the bank to avoid federal conflict-of-interest laws
Warner called Merrill a “personal friend” and promised the committee chairman, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., full cooperation from Republicans on the nomination.
The U.S. Export-Import Bank, created in 1934, provides loans to American exporters and insures transactions in case the foreign buyer does not pay. As president, Merrill would help shape trade policy abroad.
Ian Vasquez, director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Global Economic Liberty, said the bank’s president has little effect on day-to-day operations.
“It might have an influence to which companies or countries receive money,” he said. “I don’t think it makes too much of a difference who heads the bank.”
Merrill’s nomination has been on a fast track since President Bush announced it Monday. Sarbanes said he hoped to have Merrill’s appointment confirmed before the Senate goes home next week.
“I plan to support his nomination, and I look forward to working with him in his important new role,” Sarbanes said in his opening statement. He was the only committee member at Friday’s hearing.
The normally grueling vetting and questioning of confirmation hearings was replaced by a game of slow-pitch softball between Sarbanes and Merrill.
Sarbanes asked if Merrill intends to serve the entire three-year term — Merrill said yes — then moved on to specific questions about bank programs and trade policies. But Merrill never missed a step and Sarbanes agreed with each answer.
Afterward, the men hugged at the dais and chatted about ways to ease the nomination process.
Merrill’s history of high-profile government jobs began in the 1980s as a defense adviser under Presidents Reagan and Bush. He was also as a State Department intelligence analyst and assistant secretary-general of NATO.
His government involvement extends to politics. Merrill gave $80,000 to the Republican National Committee in the last election cycle and he is a good friend of Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne.
Last year, Merrill donated $10 million to the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, which operates Capital News Service. He has also made philanthropic donations to Johns Hopkins University and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.