Stephen Moore’s prospects of getting confirmed to the Federal Reserve Board grew dimmer Wednesday as Trump administration officials began to acknowledge privately he does not have the votes and Republican senators indicated the ensuing drama over Moore’s pending nomination would end soon.
Moore, whom President Trump has floated for an open seat at the powerful U.S. central bank, has faced escalating criticism from Senate Republicans this week, primarily because of his past writings disparaging women. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has already said she probably would oppose him, while several other GOP senators have expressed concerns and have privately indicated they prefer he never be officially nominated.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said in an interview Wednesday that he expects more information about Moore’s fate by the end of the week and that trying to confirm him in the Senate, where Republicans control 53 votes, would be a “very heavy lift.”
“I think there will be probably some more information about that nomination in the next day or so,” Thune said. “I think he’s gotten enough feedback from the people up here that his nomination is in trouble.”
Thune, the party’s chief vote-counter in the Senate, said he could not predict what Moore or the administration ultimately decides on his pending nomination. But two GOP senators familiar with party dynamics, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said they expect either Moore to withdraw or the White House to cancel his pending nomination by either Thursday or Friday.
Meanwhile, there is a growing awareness among some senior administration officials that Moore has no chance to win Senate confirmation, but a decision has not been made on the timing of any announcement.
Still, Moore on Wednesday resisted any notion he would step aside, telling The Washington Post: “Full speed ahead.”
Moore has come under a firestorm of criticism for his past writings and comments, in which he argued there would be societal problems if men were not the family breadwinners, complained about women in sports and derided women in combat. He now explains them as “humor columns” and has said he regrets having written them.
But while it is his writings about women that have most irritated Senate Republicans, Moore comes with other baggage. He had also fought the Internal Revenue Service over $75,000 in unpaid taxes and was found in contempt of court in 2013 for failing to pay his ex-wife more than $330,000 in child support and alimony.
Moore says he has now paid the tax lien and that it was based on “about $7,000 of tax underpayment.” He and his wife are working to get the IRS to return the rest of the money they believe they are owed.
Democrats have also highlighted other comments from Moore, such as his remarks disparaging Cincinnati and Cleveland as “armpits of America” and calling a sweeping farm policy bill “fiscally rancid.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is circulating a letter among farm-state senators asking Moore to clarify his views and questioning whether he understands the “rural economy.”
He has not been formally nominated by the White House, and another potential Fed pick who similarly was never nominated — 2012 GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain — bowed out of consideration in April when he similarly lost support among Senate Republicans.
When it became clear that Cain’s prospects for Senate confirmation had evaporated several weeks ago, White House officials largely remained quiet on the issue and let Cain withdraw from consideration on his own terms several days later.
“I sure would like to see [Moore] just withdraw,” Ernst said in a brief interview Wednesday afternoon.
Ernst, who faces reelection next year, has been the most vocal in her opposition to Moore, but other senators are increasingly raising concerns about his potential nomination, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has told Republicans to take their issues with Moore directly to the White House.
In a closed-door party lunch Tuesday, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) ticked off the litany of issues plaguing Moore, including the tax payments, child support and his columns about women, and noted that Senate Republicans could get through to confirmation, but that it will be tough, according to two senators in attendance.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a reliable Trump ally who nonetheless helped derail Cain’s nomination last month, also told fellow Senate Republicans to make their concerns about Moore known, jokingly telling others inside the lunch that he would not be the one scuttling the nomination.
Meanwhile, Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell declined to address Moore’s assertion this week that the decline in wages for men is the “biggest problem” in the economy over the past 25 years.
“I think men and women should make the same for the same work, by and large,” Powell said. When pressed, he said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on anything related to a potential nominee.
Heather Long, Damian Paletta and Erica Werner contributed to this report.