Stephen Moore, visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, stands for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Two Key GOP Senators Express Misgivings on Fed Candidate Moore

(Bloomberg) -- Stephen Moore’s chances for winning a seat on the Federal Reserve Board are looking increasingly uncertain after two key Republican senators expressed their concerns about President Donald Trump’s choice to serve on the central bank.

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama withheld endorsements of 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” on Moore’s prospects, Shelby said.

The White House’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 remarks by Ernst and Shelby came hours after Trump’s top economic adviser said the White House still backs Moore for the job. “We’re still behind him,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said. “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.”

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.

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.”

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