“I oppose the nomination of Judy Shelton because I am not convinced that she supports the independence of the Federal Reserve Board as much as I believe the Board of Governors should,” Alexander said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I don’t want to turn over management of the money supply to a Congress and a President who can’t balance the federal budget.”
Another Republican senator – retiring Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas – said Tuesday that he was undecided on Shelton’s nomination.
Shelton’s nomination has come under particular scrutiny given her views on the Fed’s independence and her calls for a return to the gold standard, which the nation fully abandoned in 1971. Shelton also advised Trump’s 2016 presidential run and has been outspoken against the Fed as an institution. She has also been criticized for altering some of her views to appear in closer agreement with Trump’s aggressive push for lower interest rates.
“With the absences now, we have some attendance issues,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Tuesday of Shelton’s vote. “It’s a little bit fluid, I’d say at the moment.”
Thune, the party’s chief vote counter, said Republicans still expect to have enough support to confirm Shelton eventually, although he acknowledged that the election of Democrat Mark Kelly in Arizona is a “complicating factor.” Kelly is filling an existing Senate term and can be sworn in as senator as soon as his election is certified, which could be as early as Nov. 30, and shrink the existing GOP majority by one vote.
Grassley’s absence is just one more complication for Shelton and Republican leadership, who have 53 votes in the Senate, while Democrats control 47. Democrats are expected to uniformly oppose Shelton, although it was not immediately clear whether all of them would be physically present Tuesday to vote against Shelton.
The biggest question mark on attendance was on Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the vice president-elect who is scheduled to be in Wilmington, Del., with President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday to attend national security briefings and missed morning Senate votes in Washington.
Later Tuesday, a Harris campaign aide said she will participate in the briefing remotely from Washington, which would in theory allow her to vote on the Shelton nomination.
Alexander will not be in Washington this week because of family matters, so he will not be present to vote against Shelton’s confirmation on Tuesday. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who was expected to support Shelton, is also quarantining this week after coming into contact with someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus.
If there is a tie, then Vice President Pence would be summoned to the Capitol to break it.
Shelton’s prospects for a seat at the central bank have been hazy for much of the year. Some Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee initially raised concerns about Shelton’s monetary policy views and whether she could maintain the central bank’s independence. 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.
Collins confirmed Tuesday that she would still be a “no” vote on Shelton. Romney, also on Tuesday, declined to say whether he would vote “present,” which would effectively help cancel out one of the Republican absences.
The Fed is responsible for monetary policy, and its main policy lever rests in the setting of interest rates. All but one of the Fed’s top officials were put in their current roles by Trump, including Chair Jerome H. Powell. But the Fed’s seven-seat board has been operating with two vacancies for years, and a handful of Trump’s previous picks either failed to garner enough support from lawmakers or withdrew their bids.
Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.