Stephen Moore’s Fed chances may rest with GOP women senators

Before Congress left Washington two weeks ago, Herman Cain was a dead man walking.

He was an unconventional pick for the powerful Federal Reserve board of governors, and senators weren’t eager to revisit the sexual harassment allegations that four women brought against him during his failed 2012 presidential campaign, though Cain has continued to deny the claims.

After initially vowing to stick it out despite racking up public opposition from four Republican senators — enough to end his chances of confirmation — Cain dropped out of the running, saying the $183,100 yearly salary wasn’t enough for him to want the job.

It made life easier for Republicans in the Senate: they would get to avoid the messy confirmation process and political headaches that his nomination would have provoked. But when senators return to Capitol Hill this week, they’ll face fresh questions about President Donald Trump’s other controversial choice for the board, Stephen Moore.

Moore, a conservative economic commentator and former Trump campaign adviser, has come under fire for his closeness to the President, who has openly disagreed with Fed policy, as well as for past columns dismissive of women that were first resurfaced by CNN’s KFILE.

Some GOP senators have publicly expressed distaste with the potential nominee, if not outright opposition — Iowa Republican Joni Ernst told Vox earlier this month that she was “not very enthused” with the choice — and Mitt Romney, who was one of the four Republicans to sink Cain’s nomination, has expressed concerns about Moore’s political background and the Fed’s independence.

“It’s important that the board be comprised of people who are academics, economists, and not people who are highly partisan,” Romney said of Cain and Moore.

Republicans may take cues from several key GOP women, such as Ernst, and Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. And Moore’s criticism of the idea of women serving in combat may rankle with freshman Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, an Air Force veteran who was the first woman pilot to fly in combat — and is the only female Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.

Despite the undercurrents of discomfort among some Republican senators, it is notable that Moore received a much warmer reception to begin with than Cain did.

“The distinction’s pretty clear. I know him. I know his philosophy, I know his economic positions, I know his credentials, I know his heart, and I think he’d be a good addition to the Fed,” North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer told CNN of Moore. Cramer was the fourth Republican to announce opposition to Cain, which sank the nomination.

And while top Republicans like Richard Shelby of Alabama and Roy Blunt of Missouri were especially reluctant to weigh in on Cain when his nomination was still a possibility, they were happy to praise Moore.

“Well, I know him better and I expect he’ll be confirmed,” Blunt told CNN in early April.

The reason is largely relational: Moore has long run in Republican political circles. Senators know him from his involvement with the influential Heritage Foundation, where he is now a distinguished visiting fellow, and his time leading the conservative Club for Growth, which he helped found in 1999. He also had a hand in the GOP tax bill passed in 2017.

“People actually have relationships with him and think he kind of represents their views on economics,” one GOP Senate aide told CNN.

Democrats argue Moore is unqualified for the post and are alarmed by his echoes of Trump’s criticism of Fed Chair Jerome Powell and interest rate hikes. Moore also faced a $75,000 tax lien from the IRS last year, which he says he has now paid off.

Moore said Sunday morning there was a “smear campaign” against him.

“The first week, a lot of economists on the left and people in the media started attacking some of my economic ideas and that got them nowhere,” he said to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “I’ve known the senators for a long time, and what happened, George, was this kind of smear campaign, this character assassination, and it began two or three weeks ago.”

Moore was a CNN contributor until earlier this year.

His writings about women and sports have drawn a new scrutiny.

“How outrageous is this? This year they allowed a woman ref a men’s NCAA game. Liberals celebrate this breakthrough as a triumph for gender equity,” Moore wrote of college basketball in 2002. “The NCAA has been touting this as example of how progressive they are. I see it as an obscenity. Is there no area in life where men can take vacation from women? What’s next? Women invited to bachelor parties? Women in combat? (Oh yeah, they’ve done that already.) Why can’t women ref the women’s games and men the men’s games. I can’t wait to see the first lady ref have a run in with Bobby Knight.”

Moore contends the writings were intended to be humorous “spoofs.” But they add to the hurdles Moore will have to overcome if the White House, which is still vetting Moore, chooses to proceed with a formal nomination.

“These articles that you’re talking about were 17, 18 years ago,” Moore said Sunday. “Some of those were columns. They were humor columns, but some of them weren’t funny and so I am apologetic. I’m embarrassed by some of those things that I wrote, but I do think we should get back to the issue of whether I’m qualified to be on the Federal Reserve Board.”

In an interview with San Diego radio host Mark Larson on Friday, Moore said his 2002 basketball column was “over the top, and I wish I hadn’t written it.”

He also said Cain’s decision to drop out of consideration could put more pressure on his own chances of being approved, noting that he had a lengthy paper trail of writings and comments that may be considered impolitic.

“If my nomination is about my views on the economy and my record on the economy, I’ll win 60 votes,” he said in the radio appearance. “If it’s about some things I wrote 20 years ago, and there’s five full time investigative reporters looking at everything I’ve written, everything I’ve ever said, and they’ll dig up stuff and people will think I’m some kind of scoundrel. In that case, I’ll probably lose.”

And although Moore has said that he would drop out if his nomination were to cause problems for vulnerable Republican senators who are up for re-election in 2020, he hasn’t shown signs of backing down soon.

“Donald Trump is a fighter,” Moore said in an interview with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Friday. “He doesn’t back down and he doesn’t want me to back down.”