McCain May Vote Against Bernanke, but Confirmation Is Likely

Posted January 24, 2010 at 11:03am

Top Senate leaders, appearing on Sunday talk shows, predicted that embattled Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will be confirmed for a second term — even as a highly influential Republican, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), said he was “leaning against— voting for his confirmation.

In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,— Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to say whether he would vote to confirm Bernanke, but said repeatedly: “He’s going to have bipartisan support in the Senate and I anticipate he will be confirmed.—

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) similarly said he thinks he’ll be able to round up the votes for Bernanke’s confirmation, though he stopped short of predicting certain victory.

“I think that we’re going to have the votes to make sure that he’s reconfirmed,— Durbin said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.—

But the challenges the White House faces in promoting a second term for Bernanke as the head of the Fed were underscored Sunday when McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and longtime member of the Finance Committee, said on the same show that he is “very skeptical about his nomination.—

“Chairman Bernanke was in charge when we hit the iceberg … and needs to be held accountable,— McCain said.

The White House generally expressed confidence about Bernanke’s fate on various Sunday news shows, one day after Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and senior member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) issued a rare joint statement expressing support for Bernanke and predicting that he will be reconfirmed.

“I think now would be a particularly bad time to send a signal to the international community and to our overall financial system by playing politics in any way,— White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.—

Appointed in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush and renominated last year by President Barack Obama, Bernanke’s current four-year term as Fed chief expires Jan. 31.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said Sunday he will oppose Bernanke’s renomination.

“I think Ben Bernanke is a brilliant and an honorable man, but one who has presided over what is a crisis of confidence of the American people … regretfully I will vote no on his confirmation. I think we need a fresh start,— Cornyn said on Fox.

Meanwhile, on the topic of health care reform, McConnell asserted that Congress must restart its negotiations on health care legislation, although he refused to declare the existing reform bill dead, insisting that only the Democratic majority could do so.

“The American people had a victory in Massachusetts and they were sending us a message: stop and start over,— McConnell said, referring to last week’s special Senate election that propelled Republican Scott Brown to a stunning victory. “It’s time to start over and go step by step.—

But in an interview on ABC’s “This Week,— White House senior adviser David Axelrod also sought to reel back a statement Obama made in an interview with ABC News last week in which the president appeared to suggest focusing on a narrower bill.

“There’s so many elements of this … that are too important to walk away from. What’s he’s saying is ‘let’s get back to it,’— Axelrod said.

“The president will not walk away from the American people,— he later added. “He will not hand them over to the tender mercies of health insurance companies.—

But on “Fox News Sunday,— Gibbs declined to detail whether new health care negotiations would focus on comprehensive reform or a more narrowly tailored package, stating only that the White House is working with Congressional leaders.

He also declined to specify whether the Obama administration would agree to a time-out — Dodd has proposed a break of up to six weeks — to allow legislators to focus on employment and other issues while determining how to salvage health care legislation.

“We’ve always been focused on jobs. The president has been focused on jobs since the moment he walked into the Oval Office,— Gibbs said. “I think those discussions are happening right now to see whether or not we can get something done and when we can do it.—

But Cornyn argued that lawmakers should start over “with a step-by-step approach,— warning that proposals including using budget reconciliation rules to pass all or portions of the health care reforms could result in major Democratic losses in the midterm elections.

“If they try to jam it through strictly along partisan lines, then I think November 2010 will be a very good month for us,— Cornyn said.

Similarly, Cornyn attributed Brown’s victory in Massachusetts to voter opposition to the current health care reform bill.

“The Massachusetts voters weren’t talking about tactics, they weren’t talking about communication strategies, they were talking about policies … If the White House and the Democrats didn’t get that message then I think they really missed the point,— Cornyn said.

He added that Brown’s victory has “energized— Republicans, and said he expects more strong GOP candidates to emerge for 2010 races, although he did not specify any contests.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) tied the loss of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat to “enormous economic angst— in the state.

“There are lessons we learned from Massachusetts,— Menendez said.

In the meantime, administration officials denied that bringing former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe in to oversee the 2010 elections is a sign of panic in the White House.

“David is value-added,” Axelrod said on CNN’s “State of the Union,— noting that no one in the White House is going to lose their positions over the administration’s recently shaky political performance. “Washington loves to throw out a body.—

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,— echoed those remarks: “That’s the game that Washington always likes to play. David Plouffe has been a regular adviser to the president throughout the course of the year. … He’s value-added and we’re delighted to have to him back. We’re not hitting the reset button at all.—

Gibbs said Obama will address the economy and deliver a populist message during Wednesday’s State of the Union address.

“What you’re going to hear from the president is the same thing you heard from him for the past several years,— Gibbs said, emphasizing health care, jobs, the banking system and making college more affordable.