Senate GOP nudges Trump: Don't nominate Herman Cain for the Fed

If I were Trump I’d call their bluff. This cuckish bunch rarely stares him down, especially on domestic policy. They’d be reluctant to embarrass him by rejecting any top nominee but particularly someone like Cain or Stephen Moore who’s known to the grassroots right-wingers whose votes Senate Republicans are counting on next fall.

And of course if they bork one or both they’d be volunteering to serve as scapegoats for Trump in the not unlikely event that the economy slows down before the 2020 election. “If only the Senate had confirmed Cain and Moore,” he’ll say next year, “the Fed would have been able to keep growth going.”

The key point is that their discomfort was foreseeable. Between the overt political-cronyism of Cain’s nomination and the ugly #MeToo battle to come if he makes it to a confirmation hearing, choosing him was destined to give Trump’s caucus in the Senate a headache. Trump didn’t care.

Senate Republicans are warning the White House that [Cain] will face one of the most difficult confirmation fights of Donald Trump’s presidency and are making a behind-the-scenes play to get the president to back off, two GOP senators said.

“There are concerns that are being voiced to the administrations about qualifications,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Republican whip. “They’re probably going to hear from a number of our members about concerns that they have. Whether or not that gets them to make a course change or not, I don’t know.”…

[M]ore troubling to some in the Senate [than the old sexual harassment allegations] is that Cain founded pro-Trump group America Fighting Back.

“Do you seriously want a guy on the Fed that has a whole organization, the only purpose of it is to encourage Republicans to do whatever the president says he’d like you to do?” said one Republican senator distressed about the nomination.

The Fed’s supposed to be insulated from political pressure so that its decisions on interest rates are driven by economic considerations, not the president’s electoral interests. How likely is Cain to stick to that mandate when his Super PAC recently accused righties who opposed Trump’s border emergency decree of being “traitors”? How likely is Moore to stick to it having served as an advisor to Trump? Politico notes that both supported increasing interest rates during Obama’s presidency when growth was slower than it is now; coincidentally, each has come to agree with Trump that lower rates are the way to go at the moment. Moore flatly admitted two years ago during a panel discussion that he wasn’t an expert on monetary policy, the defining feature of a qualified Fed choice. Yet here he is on the cusp of joining the board.

At least one Republican, Cory Gardner, has already said he’ll vote no on Cain. Romney sounds strongly inclined to vote no as well. That would leave Trump and Cain within two votes of defeat, with Susan Collins facing strong incentives to vote no herself ahead of next year’s reelection run in Maine. McConnell is reportedly encouraging Cain skeptics to speak up, no doubt hoping that enough complaints might convince Trump to pull the plug and spare the Senate this fight. One interesting “eight-dimensional chess” possibility is that Trump fully understands that Cain’s nomination is DOA in the Senate but decided to float his name for strategic reasons. He may have calculated that Senate Republicans would be extremely leery of defeating not one but two Trump-backed nominees for the Fed, in which case he chose Cain as a sacrificial lamb so that Senate GOPers could feel better about voting for Moore. They can confirm the latter but block the former and still be able to claim that they stopped Trump from politicizing the Fed. Sort of. Partly.

I think the ongoing purge at DHS might also have the unintended effect of making Republicans less likely to oppose Moore. Trump is depleting the ranks of top officials in one key agency and in no apparent rush to fill the vacancies he’s creating, alarming McConnell’s caucus. If there’s a candidate for the Fed before the Senate who’s at least arguably fit to sit on the board and the GOP borks him, God only knows how many months it’ll be before the president offers them another. It’s not like there are qualified candidates clamoring to be nominated either after seeing how Trump has scapegoated Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Moore may be the best offer they get from Trump for awhile.

Here’s Romney rhetorically wringing his hands yesterday about the purge. Smart money is that he and his colleagues will compromise with Trump by confirming Moore and convincing him to yank Cain.

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