Herman Cain is in deep trouble. And he hasn’t even been formally nominated to the Federal Reserve yet.
Senate Republicans are warning the White House that the 2012 presidential candidate 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.”
The GOP has generally waved through Trump’s nominees over the past two years, but are reluctant to do the same for the Fed, amid fears that Trump’s push to install interest-rate slashing allies will politicize the central bank.
The resistance comes as Senate Republicans are also actively pressing Trump to halt his purge at the Department of Homeland Security and reconsider economy-damaging auto tariffs.
Some GOP senators said that Cain’s difficult path may have actually eased Stephen Moore’s confirmation to the Fed, despite Moore’s own problems with unpaid taxes and partisan reputation. After all, Republicans may be hard-pressed to revolt against both of Trump’s nominees.
“I think the chances of getting both through I would say at the moment are pretty steep,” Thune said.
Neither Moore nor Cain have officially been submitted as nominees. A senator familiar with the nominations said that Trump is “full speed” ahead on Cain even though FBI background checks and documentations of sexual harassment allegations have not yet been submitted to the Senate. A person familiar with the process expects the background check to raise more questions about Cain.
With that in mind, Republicans are trying to dissuade Trump from a brutal political fight that would highlight intraparty divisions; the nominations only need a bare majority and no Democratic support can be counted on.
Trump’s intent to nominate Cain marks one of his most brazen moves yet to take on his own party, coming on the heels of his emergency declaration at the border that went directly against the wishes of GOP senators who stood by Trump during the shutdown.
And once again, Republicans are sending clear signals to him: Pick someone with less partisan credentials and less baggage. While Cain did serve on the Kansas City Federal Reserve board, Senate Republicans say he now largely appears to be a Trump surrogate.
“I don’t think Herman Cain will be on the Federal Reserve board, no. I’m reviewing [Moore’s] writings and I’ll make a determination when I have done so,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who ran against Cain in the 2012 race and seems confident Cain will either be derailed or not officially nominated.
“I feel that we can’t turn the Federal Reserve into a more partisan entity,” Romney added. “I think that would be the wrong course:”
Cain later endorsed Romney in 2012, but one of Romney’s colleagues said the Utah senator “is not fond of Herman.” Cain also challenged Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) in a 2004 Senate primary race.
But more troubling to some in the Senate 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 senator said confirming Cain would be “hard” but his nomination alone “might confirm Stephen Moore.”
“Stephen Moore I know well, worked with him. He does have a lot of experience in the area,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a former Banking Committee chairman. “Mr. Cain … [Trump] hadn’t nominated him yet. That will be the more interesting nomination.”
“I don’t know Mr. Cain, so I’ll withhold judgment there. I know Stephen Moore,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).
The rosier reception for Moore comes in part because Republicans will be reluctant to reject two of Trump’s Fed nominees, given their desire to protect their already-shaky relationship with the president. In addition to their opposition to Trump’s tariffs threats and his shakeup at the Homeland Security Department, Republicans also recently forced him to back off his demand for a new health care bill.
Yet it’s not clear at all that the president is keeping in mind the fact that he will need to get 50 of 53 Senate Republicans to vote for these nominees. Asked about Cain, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said only: “I was not aware it was that serious of a consideration.”
Stressing that he was not singling out Cain, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a whip for six years, said that the White House must simply do more to consult with Capitol Hill.
“It’s really important for the White House to work with us as they’re contemplating nominees to make sure that both the White House has reasonable expectations about confirmations. We can also communicate with the White House about what the challenges a confirmation may be,” Cornyn said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about the GOP’s unease with the Cain pick.
It’s not clear the president quite realizes the scale of the potential task ahead to confirm his two Fed picks. A half-dozen GOP senators are bracing for competitive races next year and do not want to be seen as Trump’s lackeys. Voting against those nominees could help them assert their independence in their voting record.
Then there are senators like Romney and Isakson who have shown little fear in confronting Trump of late. Romney voted against Trump’s national emergency declaration, while Isakson stepped into a void of Senate Republicans to defend the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) from Trump’s attacks.
They certainly won’t be alone in scrutinizing these nominees.
“Mr. Cain did serve on the regional Federal Reserves, so that is good experience. His wanting to return to the gold standard is something that is very controversial. And I don’t know the details at this point about the sexual harassment allegations against him,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “Stephen Moore appears to have a host of financial and other issues that are going to need to be explored, as well as the fact that he is a very unconventional choice.”
Cain said over the weekend he wasn’t sure he would pass a background check, explaining it could be “cumbersome” given his long career as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and the National Restaurant Association and in his work in the Federal Reserve system. It was a comment that quickly caught Republicans’ attention.
“That’s certainly something for thought,” Isakson remarked.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine