Herald editorial board
A pair of young congresswomen continue to put their feet in their mouths, just months into their first term in the U.S. House.
Last month, it was Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who suggested via Twitter that the United States' support of Israel is motivated by money, and specifically by donations from the pro-Israel lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Omar's comments were condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike; she has since apologized.
This week, it's freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. During a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, panelists were asking critical questions of Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan, who was called to Washington to explain several bad business practices, including aggressive sales tactics, creation of fake accounts and charging customers for insurance they didn't need.
The Federal Reserve has claimed Wells Fargo has participated in "widespread consumer abuse."
Wells Fargo's issues are serious, and it's good for Congress step in to ask questions, especially this level-headed query from Maxine Waters, D-Calif.: "You have not been able to keep Wells Fargo out of trouble. Why should Wells Fargo continue to be the size that it is?"
That's a good question, and one that's based on the issue-consumer abuses-that brought Sloan before the panel.
Said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.: "Robbing your customer is not an error in business."
Yet Ocasio-Cortez used her time in the spotlight to grill Sloan on business practices for which Wells Fargo is not in trouble. She asked about the bank's involvement in financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, the oil infrastructure project that drew so much national attention when environmentalists protested its construction in North Dakota 2016.
"If there was a leak from the Dakota Access Pipeline, why shouldn't Wells Fargo pay for the cleanup of it, since they paid for the construction of the pipeline itself?" she asked Sloan.
Sloan responded that Wells Fargo doesn't own the pipeline, and that the bank is one of nearly 20 institutions that provided financing. Ocasio-Cortez interrupted Sloan to ask why Wells Fargo would lend money to a project that is criticized for environmental concerns.
Well, here's an answer for the young congresswoman: Because it's all perfectly legal - mining oil, building pipelines, shipping oil and providing the financial support to do all of it. Perhaps we understand that better in North Dakota than those in New York.
Again, Wells Fargo rightfully has its hands full with its past business practices. Questions and criticisms related to those practices were right, fair and important.
For Ocasio-Cortez to use this important public spotlight to further her Green New Deal agenda - unrealistically based on phasing out oil in the next decade - was nothing more than grandstanding at the expense of an industry she detests but which is so important here in North Dakota.