Top White House officials sent conflicting signals Monday over the future of Stephen Moore’s nomination for the Federal Reserve’s powerful Board of Governors.
Early Monday, press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the White House is reviewing past columns Moore wrote for the National Review, which were first resurfaced last week by CNN’s KFile.
“Certainly we’re reviewing those comments and when we have an update on that front we’ll let you know,” Sanders told reporters at the White House. It was the first time any White House official has openly acknowledged Moore’s past positions.
A few hours later, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow came out to tell reporters that Moore still has the full support of the White House.
“We’re still behind him and he’s going through the process of vetting and we’ll see what happens through that process and then hopefully we’ll go up to the Senate Banking Committee,” Kudlow told reporters at the White House. “No change in our position.”
Questions about Moore’s fate come after President Donald Trump’s other Fed board pick, Herman Cain, withdrew from consideration last week, citing the pay cut he would have to take. His nomination had revived old claims of sexual harassment that sank his 2012 Republican presidential campaign, though Cain continues to deny them.
Trump has broken precedent in recent months with his public opposition to Fed interest rate hikes, which he claims are slowing the economy down rather than just keeping it stable. The Fed has in recent months halted its plans for further increases amid signs of a looming slowdown in the US and growing uncertainty abroad, particularly in China.
Trump said in late March that he plans to nominate the longtime conservative economic commentator, who served as a 2016 campaign adviser, but the White House is still vetting the pick before a formal nomination is forwarded to the Senate.
Moore, who was previously a CNN contributor, has also drawn criticism for reversing his public positions on interest rate policy and other issues once Trump took office, as well as for $75,000 in unpaid taxes.
His columns, written in the early 2000s, included arguments that women should be banned from refereeing, announcing or beer vending at men’s basketball games. Moore told CNN in an email last week: “This was a spoof. I have a sense of humor.”
Kudlow has repeatedly defended Moore, saying last Wednesday that Moore still had Trump’s support for a seat on the seven-member Fed board, which sets interest rate policy.
“We continue to back Stephen Moore, continue to back him,” Kudlow said last week.
Moore did not respond to a request for comment from CNN on Monday.
But he has repeatedly claimed the media was trying to “pull a Kavanaugh against me,” a reference to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation hearing last year was marked by allegations he had committed sexual assault as a teenager.
Even so, he acknowledged in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week that he would be willing to bow out as a potential Fed nominee if he were to become a “liability.”
“I don’t want to be a liability,” said Moore in the interview. “Why should we risk a Senate seat for a Federal Reserve board person, you know? I mean that just doesn’t make any sense.
This is not the first time a Fed nominee has raised furor over his comments about women.
In 2013, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers withdrew his name from consideration for Fed chair amid an outcry over claims he made at a conference suggesting that men outperform women in math and science for biological reasons.
Summers had been floated by President Barack Obama as a possible replacement for Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, but the job ultimately went to Janet Yellen.
Moore’s pending nomination has also drawn sharp criticism over his lack of traditional credentials and his close ties to the President, including from Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee.
“There are very few cases where the nominees are so blatantly political and blatantly unqualified,” said Alan Blinder, an economics professor at Princeton University and a Fed vice chairman under President Bill Clinton.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan appointed Manley Johnson, a top Treasury official, and Wayne Angell, a Kansas banker backed by then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, to the Fed board to oppose Chair Paul Volcker – an appointee of President Jimmy Carter who was trying to control inflation.
Volcker threatened to resign after the pair outvoted him on a key interest rate decision, but ultimately he got his way.
But former Fed officials say the choice of Moore, and previously Cain, is a clear deviation toward political partisanship.
“Every vote would be, ‘What does the White House think about this?’ That’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” said Cornelius Hurley, the director of Boston University’s Center for Finance, Law and Policy and a former Fed official. “That’s not what the Fed is there for. The Fed is to depoliticize to the extent you can.”
Ironically, some former officials said, overt political pressure can sometimes backfire as the Fed seeks to assert its independence – a core element of its role in reassuring markets and investors about future stability.
“The President’s pressure will make the Fed more likely to not do what the President wants for the simple reason they don’t want people in the marketplace thinking that the Fed is caving,” said William Dudley, the former president of the New York Federal Reserve and a senior research scholar at Princeton University. “I don’t think this is going to work in terms of the President pushing the Fed into a different direction.”
CNN’s Allie Malloy contributed to this report.