The expected nomination of John D. Hawke Jr. to be the 28th comptroller of the currency is attracting bipartisan support in the Senate and enthusiastic backing from the banking industry.
Administration sources said that Mr. Hawke, Treasury under secretary for domestic finance since 1995, is President Clinton's choice to succeed Eugene A. Ludwig, whose five-year term ended April 3. An announcement is expected from the White House within weeks.
What remains unclear is how long Senate confirmation would take. The legislative calendar is tight, with Congress scheduled to be on vacation through August and to adjourn in early October for the fall elections.
"On a personal basis he no doubt will get a good reception, but how his nomination fits into the jam at the end of the session, I don't know," said Edward L. Yingling, the American Bankers Association's chief lobbyist.
But Mr. Hawke, a former Federal Reserve Board general counsel who is considered one of the country's top banking lawyers, is on excellent terms with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato, who would be expected to move the nomination quickly. Mr. Hawke reportedly is also close friends with Howard A. Menell, the panel's staff director.
On Monday, Senate aides on both sides of the aisle predicted smooth sailing. "We would welcome somebody with his extensive background in the banking industry in that position," said an aide to Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C.
"This shouldn't be controversial," agreed an aide for Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev.
For his part, Mr. Hawke was playing it safe Monday. "I'm very happy with the job I'm in, and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment," he said.
The prospect of Mr. Hawke's nomination elated banking industry officials.
"He's an extraordinarily bright guy," said William T. McConnell, ABA president and chairman of Park National Corp., Newark, Ohio. Mr. McConnell said Mr. Hawke provided crucial support to decisions by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that expanded national bank powers.
"He would be a superb choice," said Richard M. Kovacevich, chairman of Norwest Corp. "Jerry has all the background necessary to know how to make banks strong, safe, and viable."
Though no opposition to Mr. Hawke has surfaced, his determination to expand the powers of national banks has raised concerns of several lawmakers, including Sen. D'Amato, R-N.Y.
Mr. Hawke has insisted that financial reform legislation allow national banks to engage in a wide range new activities through direct subsidiaries. He is widely credited with convincing the Clinton administration to oppose pending legislation that would require banks to enter new businesses through holding company affiliates.
Some senators may use the nomination as a way to fight the administration over financial reform, some lobbyists said.
"I expect several senators will have questions about how aggressive he might be on preempting state laws and what kind of ultimate goals he may pursue at the OCC," said Robert Rusbuldt, lobbyist for the Independent Insurance Agents of America, which has opposed the OCC's efforts to knock down state restrictions on national banks.