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WASHINGTON – White House support for Herman Cain, one of President Donald Trump's controversial Federal Reserve Board picks, seemed to weaken Thursday, when Trump's top economic advisor Thursday pointedly declined to give Cain a full-throated endorsement.
"Yes, we are, at the moment," National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow replied when asked during an event in Washington about whether the White House still stood behind Cain, a former pizza executive and 2012 Republican presidential candidate.
"He's in the vetting process, we will see how that turns out," Kudlow added. "I don't want to prejudge it one way or the other."
Kudlow's hands-off attitude about the nomination is a stark departure from the traditional role played by White House officials after the president announces his intent to nominate someone to a post like the Fed board, which requires Senate confirmation. Kudlow is a former CNBC contributor.
In most cases, White House officials are expected to act as front-line cheerleaders for the president's picks, making the case to both the Senate and the public that the president's choice was a good pick.
But Cain does not fit the mold of a traditional nominee to the Federal Reserve Board. Although Trump has yet to submit formal nomination papers for him, Cain's chances of winning Senate confirmation have grown slimmer by the day since Trump announced his selection last Thursday.
At least three Republican senators confirmed this week that they would not vote to confirm him to the post: Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Cory Gardner of Colorado, and newly minted Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
There are also concerns among lawmakers and on Wall Street about Trump's other contentious pick for the Fed board, conservative political activist and economics writer Stephen Moore. It is unclear whether Republican senators will vote against Moore, who has had to contend with claims that he is unqualified for the Fed role as well as revelations about his messy divorce. Moore advised Trump during his 2016 campaign and co-authored a 2018 book called "Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy."
Best known as the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, Cain also was chairman of the Kansas City Fed. In spring 2011, he entered the Republican presidential primary race alongside Romney, where his debating style and economic platform briefly helped to make him a serious contender.
But Cain suspended his campaign in December of that year after it emerged that three women had accused him of workplace sexual harassment, a fourth woman accused him of sexual assault, and a fifth woman came forward to allege that she and Cain had carried out a 13-year-long extramarital affair.
Cain has denied all the allegations, calling them "bull crap" in an interview last week with The Washington Post. "I'm not going to address any accusations, founded or unfounded. And they were all unfounded," Cain told the paper.
Still, the prospect of revisiting the allegations during a heated Senate confirmation hearing, and having to publicly defend Cain, likely holds little appeal for the White House.
Asked Wednesday about whether Cain's selection would evolve into a formal nomination, Trump was uncharacteristically hands off, telling reporters: "Herman will make that determination."
"As to how he's doing in the process, that I don't know," Trump said, before adding, "Herman's a great guy and I hope he does well."