A third GOP senator comes out against Trump’s Fed nominee, putting confirmation vote on knife’s edge

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Democrats are also expected to oppose Shelton’s nomination, and Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. It is unclear whether Vice President Pence, who is marshaled in to break ties in the Senate, will have to do so; a spokesman for Alexander said he will not be in Washington this week due to family matters, so he won’t be present to vote on the nomination if it occurs this week.

But Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who is expected to support Shelton, will be in quarantine this week, according to spokesman Chris Hartline, after coming into contact with someone Friday night in Naples, Fla., who later tested positive.

If Scott and Alexander both miss the vote, it could come down to a 49-49 tie if Vice President-elect Kamala Harris votes.

And if the vote drags into early December, incoming Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) will be seated, likely imperiling Shelton’s chances.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took procedural steps to set up a vote on Shelton’s long-pending nomination, suggesting his party’s leadership believed they had enough support to move forward. For much of 2020, Shelton’s prospects have looked dicey given her controversial views on the Fed’s independence and the long-abandoned gold standard.

In her past writings and remarks, Shelton has said the Fed harnesses too much power and should be reined in. She has also called for a return to the long-abandoned gold standard, which her critics say make her too much of an outlier to set monetary policy at the central bank. Shelton also advised Trump’s 2016 presidential run.

Left-leaning economists and Democratic lawmakers have staunchly opposed Shelton’s nomination, saying Shelton’s views are too extreme for a job as one of the country’s top economic policymakers. Over the summer, Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee called for another chance to vet Shelton given how drastically the economy had been shaped by the coronavirus crisis since her initial hearing.

Even among Republicans, Shelton’s nomination has appeared in jeopardy multiple times. Earlier in the year, Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee raised concerns about Shelton’s monetary policy views and whether she could maintain the central bank’s independence, which is core to the Fed’s reputation and authority.

Shelton’s nomination narrowly made it through the banking panel, which voted 13 to 12 along party lines to send the nomination to the full Senate. Romney and Collins publicly said they’d oppose Shelton’s nomination soon after.

Then in September, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) suggested Shelton didn’t have enough votes to be confirmed. At the time, Thune said conversations about Shelton’s nomination “kind of got eclipsed by the coronavirus discussion” and related stimulus negotiations.

“We’re still working it,” Thune said at the time. “She’s a priority for the White House. It’s the Federal Reserve. It’s important, so obviously we want to get it done. But we’re not going to bring it up until we have the votes to confirm her.”

The Fed’s board of governors has seven seats, and individual governors can have limited influence. But they do vote on monetary policy and regulatory policy decisions and can prove influential during debates. Trump has remade almost all of the Fed’s board of governors, including through the nomination of Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell. But Trump has had less success filling two open slots in the past few years, as some of his ideas for nominees were rejected by Republican senators or withdrew their bids.

Trump’s other pick for the second Fed vacancy has been far less controversial. Yet it’s unclear when or if Republicans will move to confirm Christopher J. Waller, a St. Louis Fed economist, by the end of the year.