Trump’s controversial Fed nominee stalled after Senate setback

Judy Shelton’s Federal Reserve Board nomination failed to advance on Tuesday after coronavirus-related quarantines sidelined some Republican senators and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris returned to the upper chamber to provide a crucial “no” vote.

Senators voted 47-50 to end debate on Shelton’s nomination, falling short of the simple majority needed. In a boon to Democrats, Harris, a Democratic senator from California, voted against Shelton’s nomination, preventing a tie.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) initially voted “yes” but with Shelton stuck at 48-49, he switched his vote, making the final tally 47-50. The move allows him to bring the nomination back up, something he immediately laid the groundwork to do. 

The setback comes only days after President Trump’s controversial pick appeared to be on a glide path to be confirmed to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors when Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she would support her.

But two Republicans — Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Rick Scott (Fla.) — are currently quarantined due to exposure to the coronavirus, throwing a late curveball into the Senate’s consideration of her nomination.

“We have some attendance issues, so it’s a little bit fluid, I’d say, at the moment,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, on Tuesday about Shelton.

Thune said that he believed Republicans would have the votes to confirm Shelton once senators were done quarantining, but added that “there is a little bit of a complicated factor in the Arizona seat.” Sen.-elect Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) can be seated as soon as Nov. 30.

Three GOP senators are opposed to Shelton: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). Their opposition, combined with the quarantining, capped Shelton’s “yes” votes at 48.

Collins said shortly before the vote that she wouldn’t “pair” with an absent colleague, a procedural move that would offset their absence.

“I am very concerned about her position on the independence of the Fed and even questioning the need for a central bank, and for those reasons I cannot support her nomination and will vote no,” Collins said.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) voted to end debate on her nomination on Tuesday but told reporters only hours earlier that he was undecided about confirming her.

Speculations swirled earlier Tuesday that Vice President Pence might be able to break a tie if Harris was absent, because that would have deadlocked the Shelton vote at 48-48.

But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he had asked Harris to return. She was spotted fist-bumping with her colleagues, including Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Tim Scott (S.C.), on the Senate floor during the Shelton vote.

Shelton was already facing a tight path to confirmation after being held in limbo for months due to bipartisan opposition over her previous support for returning to the gold standard and using interest rates as a tool to make U.S. exports more competitive.

If Shelton is confirmed, she would fill one of two vacant seats on the seven-person Fed board of governors. All but two of those seats have been filled by Trump, despite Senate Republicans rejecting four of his previous Fed picks.

–Updated at 4:35 p.m.

Tags Chuck Grassley Dick Durbin Donald Trump Federal Reserve John Thune Judy Shelton Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Mark Kelly Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Pat Roberts Susan Collins Tim Scott

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