Moore's odds for Fed seat sink as third GOP senator voices doubt

Alyza Sebenius, Justin Sink and Steven T. Dennis
Stephen Moore, a Heritage Foundation fellow and a former Trump campaign adviser, has been nominated by President Trump for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board.

Stephen Moore’s chances for winning a seat on the Federal Reserve Board are looking increasingly uncertain after a third Republican senator on Tuesday expressed concerns about President Donald Trump’s choice to serve on the central bank.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a key ally of the president, told reporters that Moore would be a “very problematic nomination,” though he hasn’t made up his mind. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama on Monday voiced their own concerns about Moore, a Heritage Foundation fellow and a former Trump campaign adviser.

“I’m not enthused about what he has said in various articles,” Ernst, the Senate’s fourth-ranking Republican, told reporters on Monday while heading into a leadership meeting. “I think it’s ridiculous.”

Later Monday, Shelby, the former chairman of the Banking Committee, said he thought the proposed nomination has “some problems” and is causing concern among Republican senators. “It looks like drip by drip” of revelations about Moore, Shelby said.

Trump’s selection of Moore runs the risk of unraveling a little more than a week after the president’s other choice for the Fed Board, former Godfather’s Pizza Inc. chief executive Herman Cain, withdrew from consideration. The objections to Moore come as Trump renewed his criticism of the Fed for increasing interest rates in a pair of tweets on Tuesday.

Trump’s top economic adviser said the White House continues to back Moore for the job. “We’re still behind him,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said on Monday. “No change in our position.”

On Tuesday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway reiterated that Trump still backs Moore. But she added that Moore has said he’d withdraw if he’s a liability for the administration. For now, Moore is comfortable still being considered, Conway said.

If nominated by Trump, Moore can lose no more than three Republican senators, assuming all of the chamber’s Democrats vote against him.

He has come under scrutiny for a range of controversial public remarks, including columns he wrote for the National Review more than 15 years ago that disparaged women. He wrote, for example, that women tennis pros wanted “equal pay for inferior work.” Moore has called the columns a “spoof.”

Moore was also found in contempt of court after he failed to pay his former wife about $300,000 in alimony after their 2010 divorce, and the Internal Revenue Service won a judgment against him for about $75,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties in 2018. He has said the tax debt resulted from an accounting error and that he’s contesting it.

“He has to be evaluated,” said Shelby, now the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “But a lot of things have come up about his taxes, about his child support, alimony, about things he’s written about women. All those become issues as part of the confirmation process if he gets nominated.”

Other Senators said they want to ask Moore questions but stopped short of taking a position. GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she wants to hear from Moore about articles he has written, policies he supports and independence of the Fed. GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said she, too, would ask about his writings.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was noncommittal. “We’re happy to receive nominations when we get them,” he said. “If he is nominated we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Monday that the White House was reviewing Moore’s writings and statements but didn’t elaborate. “When we have an update on that front we’ll let you know,” she told reporters.

The president repeatedly attacked Fed Chairman Jerome Powell for raising rates last year and discussed firing him in December. His desire to place Moore and Cain, two loyalists, on the board has prompted concerns over the possible politicization of the U.S. central bank.

Trump suggested Tuesday that if the Fed cut interest rates by one percentage point and resumed bond purchases it would boost the economy “like a rocket,” as central bank policy makers met to decide on where to set borrowing costs.

In the Tuesday tweets, Trump criticized the Fed for having “incessantly lifted interest rates” amid “wonderfully low inflation” in the U.S. He also praised China for adding “great stimulus” to its economy and keeping borrowing costs low.

Cain withdrew after decades-old sexual harassment and infidelity allegations against him began to resurface. In a column, he said that he had decided not to pursue the nomination because it would mean a substantial pay cut.

Moore also has taken heat for having called Cincinnati and Cleveland the “armpits of America” in a 2014 speech, a comment that risks offending voters in Ohio, a key state for Trump in his 2020 re-election bid.

Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Moore said that while he’s embarrassed by some of the things he wrote, he’s facing a “smear campaign” that includes having his divorce papers from a decade ago unsealed. The focus, he said, should be on his economic views and the role he played in advising Trump on policies that have produced strong economic growth.

Moore said Sunday that Ohio is no longer the “armpit of America.”

With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich, Jennifer Jacobs and Daniel Flatley