Senate Republicans, who recently split over a vote on terminating Trump’s national emergency, are now fracturing over a new test of their loyalty to the president: Herman Cain.
Cain, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate and the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, is one of two candidates President Donald Trump recently floated as potential picks for the Federal Reserve Board.
Democrats have argued that Cain, who has founded a super PAC dedicated to backing Trump and faced four allegations of sexual misconduct, isn’t the right person to serve on the board of the world’s most powerful central bank. And they aren’t alone.
Several Republicans, too, have voiced their opposition, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has even gone so far as to urge members of the caucus to reach out to the White House and clue the administration into their concerns before the nomination is official, CNN reports. Yet, while some Republicans have taken issue with Cain’s nomination, others — at least publicly — say they’re plenty open to considering him.
“I think he’s very qualified, he’s a business guy, he’s got experience on the board … out there in Kansas City, so I think he’s a great choice,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), one of Trump’s reliable allies on the Hill who also sits on the Senate Banking Committee, which would oversee Cain’s confirmation hearing.
Multiple Republicans cited Cain’s experience working at the Kansas City Federal Reserve as background that should be considered to his credit, and while several expressed concerns about the sexual misconduct allegations that have been raised against him, others suggested that they might not be enough to sink his nomination.
“I think sexual misconduct is wrong,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), while adding, “if it’s a barrier to people being in public office, the president wouldn’t be president.”
Cain has proven to be a controversial nominee, even at the White House, according to an Atlantic report. While neither he nor Stephen Moore, a conservative economics writer Trump is also eyeing for the Fed, have been officially nominated, White House aides had questioned whether Cain was a good fit for the role.
Amid all these concerns — including those espoused by members of the financial industry — Trump appears to remain positive about his backing of Cain. “I like Herman Cain and Herman will make that determination,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday, when asked about whether Cain’s potential nomination would be affected by the pushback.
For some lawmakers, Trump’s opinion on the topic might just be enough.
Republicans have put up with a lot of troubling nominees. Cain could be one step too far.
Senate Republicans have helped usher through Cabinet and judicial nominees who’ve been accused of sexual assault, advocated the rollback of voting rights and questioned the role humans play in climate change.
Cain, however, could be pushing the limits of Republicans’ willingness to stand by the president’s selections — particularly among those lawmakers who are already less likely to fall in line.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) was among one of the earliest Republicans to come out against Cain, and Romney has said he worries Cain’s presence would make the Fed a more partisan body, given the former executive’s longstanding political support for Trump. Romney argued last week that Cain would likely help Trump fulfill his plans to slash interest rates and harm the independence of the institution guiding America’s monetary policy.
“I would like to see nominees that are economists first and not partisans. I think it’s important that the Fed be a nonpartisan entity,” Romney told Politico in an interview. “The key is that someone is outside of the political world and is an economic leader not a partisan leader.”
When asked about Cain and Moore’s potential nominations, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) simply laughed. “I hope the president will consider these nominations very carefully,” she told Vox. I’m not very enthused right now.”
Growing blowback against Cain’s nomination has led Senate Republicans to stage a behind-the-scenes effort to prevent his selection from being formalized by the White House, Politico reports.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that he would be confirmed,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).
Still, there are lawmakers within the Republican Party who remain bullish on Cain’s chances. Supporting Cain could also be a means to align themselves more closely with Trump, especially ahead of 2020.
“I think he’d probably be confirmed,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who noted that he did not see Republicans as divided on the matter.
But Cornyn, a top Senate Republican who recently pushed back at Trump’s staffing changes at the Department of Homeland Security, added that he’d like to see more consultation from the White House on nominees down the road.
“I don’t think it’s a given that everybody whose name gets floated, without vetting and without consultation, could get confirmed,” he said.
Republican seem less worried about Stephen Moore
Moore, the second person Trump has said he intends to appoint to the Fed, appears to be getting a warmer reception from Senate Republicans, even though he also faces challenges of his own.
Democrats also view Moore, a current fellow at conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, as a baldly political choice — and pointedly wonder whether someone who’s encountered personal finance issues in the past is qualified to help run the US’s central bank.
As Amanda Sakuma wrote for Vox, Moore was previously held in contempt of court for failing to pay child support and alimony to his ex-wife in the wake of their divorce settlement. He also owes more than $75,000 in taxes to the IRS, which he says he’s been paying back in the aftermath of what he claimed was a paperwork-related mishap, according to the Guardian.
Those issues, however, aren’t necessarily disqualifying for all Senate Republicans; multiple lawmakers mentioned that they were familiar with Moore and spoke positively of his consideration.
“I know Stephen Moore, he’s a smart man, he’s the head of Club for Growth,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). “We have to do this in regular order, but I think he would probably be a good voice on the Fed. One, he’s got to be nominated first. Second, he’s got to be confirmed.”
“I said, ‘Pay your taxes; pay your support!’” Shelby said, when asked about Moore’s financial problems.
“Stephen is a solid guy, I know Stephen pretty well. I think Stephen has been right about a few things, with regard to the Fed’s treatment of interest rates, especially,” Cramer said. “I want to hear more about the specific issues surrounding some of his financial situations.”
The North Dakota senator added that he did not see Moore’s run-in with the IRS or the divorce settlement being disqualifying for his nomination if he had cleared up both issues.
Some Republicans said they’d be open to vetting both Moore and Cain further as part of the confirmation process, and making a decision after more steps had been taken. The Senate confirmation process is typically used to scrutinize potential concerns about nominees, though these lawmakers could be trying to diplomatically dodge the question of where they actually stand on the latest of Trump’s controversial nominees.
“They’re unconventional picks, and I want to see what the banking committee hearings reveal,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). “I’m sure there will be many, many questions about both nominees.”