Companies that rely on the bank and lawmakers who fought to save it are once again fretting about its future. “I think there is a legitimate concern about whether this nominee will fulfill the commitment we have to American workers to get the bank up and running,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, who helped make the case to Mr. Trump that keeping the bank alive was aligned with his goals of promoting American manufacturing. “You have to make sure you are not putting someone there who is a saboteur.”
Mr. Garrett did not respond to requests for comment, but a White House spokeswoman, Natalie Strom, said Mr. Trump was confident that he would be a “key voice for reform” at the bank. The Trump administration will direct Mr. Garrett to stop the bank from being a target of “special interests” and instead focus on supporting small businesses, she said.
Known in Washington as “Ex-Im,” the 83-year-old bank has been languishing for nearly two years. Since Congress renewed its lapsed authorization to operate in late 2015, the bank has done little business. Ex-Im authorized $5 billion in financing last year, the smallest amount in 40 years and a quarter of what it authorized in 2014, the last year it was fully operational.
Mr. Hochberg, who was fiercely grilled by Mr. Garrett in congressional hearings, said that $30 billion in deals and 40 major projects were languishing in the pipeline as recently as January. The inaction has created a backlog of big deals that has left American companies and their foreign customers in a lurch.
Backers of the bank contend that it is well suited to Mr. Trump’s “America First” philosophy. They point out that it promotes United States exports of all kinds, whether by providing loan guarantees to overseas airlines for the purchase of Boeing jets or helping General Electric and the Environmental Chemical Corporation build a drinking water facility in Cameroon.
Because other industrialized countries use similar tactics to promote their goods, proponents argue, Ex-Im keeps American companies competitive. “We’re dealing with countries that have tremendous export machines,” said Deborah Wince-Smith, chief executive of the Council on Competitiveness business group. “The U.S. needs to have these instruments.”
Decades ago Democrats were the most vocal opponents of the Export-Import Bank, branding it as corporate welfare. But in recent years Republicans and conservative activist groups took on that role in the name of limited government. During the presidential campaign, Republican candidates often called for closing the bank, listing it among top goals like repealing the Affordable Care Act and securing the border.
They regularly cast the bank as a corrupt organization that helps foreign companies at the expense of American firms. “This is basically a subsidy to foreign competitors of U.S. companies,” said Dan Holler, vice president of the conservative advocacy organization Heritage Action for America. “It’s not a policy that actually creates American jobs.”
While many conservatives share Mr. Garrett’s views of the bank, his Senate confirmation is far from a lock. A vote is expected this spring or summer, though no date has been set. Bipartisan support for the bank has led to worries about Mr. Garrett’s intentions. He also left his job as a lawmaker on a sour note.
After serving in the House for seven terms, Mr. Garrett was unseated last year by Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat and political newcomer who flipped a reliably Republican seat. The campaign was a brutal one in which Mr. Garrett’s hard-line positions, such as his vote against a ban on Confederate flags at military cemeteries, were highlighted to paint him as out of touch with New Jersey residents.
In 2015, Mr. Garrett angered his Republican colleagues when, according to Politico, he refused to pay dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee because it recruited and supported gay candidates. The notion that he was homophobic, which Mr. Garrett denied, hampered his campaign fund-raising last year and put his seat in play.
The decline of Mr. Garrett’s popularity in New Jersey started to become evident in 2012 after he declined to sign a letter asking for additional federal money to recover from Hurricane Sandy. After Mr. Garrett said he feared the money would be wasted, he faced accusations that he was not looking out for his state.
For longtime opponents of the bank who had hoped for its demise, Mr. Garrett’s confirmation would be a consolation prize.
Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said if the bank must live on, he wants Mr. Garrett to ensure that foreign companies pay their share when they get financing. And he wants the bank to avoid financing foreign projects that end up harming American workers.
“For someone who would rather see it all closed down,” Mr. Toomey said, “Scott Garrett is the best guy we could have.”