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Shelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences

The Hill logo The Hill 11/17/2020 Jordain Carney
a large stone statue in front of a building: Shelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences © Greg Nash Shelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences

President Trump's controversial nominee to the Federal Reserve Board is in limbo amid Senate absences fueled by exposure to the coronavirus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has teed up Judy Shelton's nomination for an initial vote on Tuesday afternoon, when she'll need a simple majority to overcome a procedural hurdle and advance to a final vote as soon as Wednesday.

Shelton's nomination appeared to be on a glide path late last week after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) announced her support and GOP leadership moved to break the months-long uncertainty.

Instead, it's unclear if Shelton will have the support needed to move forward. Spokespeople for McConnell didn't immediately respond to a question about whether Tuesday's procedural vote will move forward as scheduled.

"We'll see. With the absences now, 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.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) added that they were "still working" the vote.

Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, where every Democratic senator is expected to oppose Shelton.

Her nomination faced fierce headwinds amid bipartisan opposition over her previous support for returning to the gold standard and using inflation as a tool to make U.S. exports more competitive.

Three GOP senators have said they oppose her: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). But Alexander is not in Washington, D.C., this week due to family obligations.

That put support for Shelton at 50-49. But in a curveball, two GOP senators - Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) - announced that they are in self-quarantine after exposure to an individual with coronavirus. A third Republican senator, Sen. Todd Young (Ind.), was in self-quarantine but is expected to return on Tuesday.

If every senator except Alexander, Scott and Grassley votes on Tuesday, Shelton would fall short of the votes necessary to advance at 48-49.

But in a potential boon to Shelton, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the vice president-elect, has not been returning to the Senate to vote.

Spokespeople for Harris didn't immediately respond to a question about her schedule. But if she doesn't vote, Shelton would have a 48-48 tie, letting Vice President Pence cast a vote to advance her on Tuesday or even confirm her on Wednesday.

Eleven senators, including Harris, were also absent from Monday night's vote: four Republican senators, six Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged Republicans to oppose Shelton's nomination during Tuesday's procedural vote.

"I understand a few of our Republican colleagues will oppose her nomination as well. The question is will enough of our colleagues on the other side stand up and do the right thing today?" Schumer asked ahead of the vote.

Updated: 12:52 p.m.

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