Government & Politics

Herman Cain, Trump’s prospective Fed nominee, calls Senate critics ‘a bunch of yahoos’

Herman Cain, whose prospects for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors have grown shaky before President Donald Trump even nominates him, likely gave his detractors in the U.S. Senate more reason to oppose his confirmation with comments at a University of Kansas lecture Wednesday night.

Cain, 73, the long-time business executive and 2012 presidential candidate, warned against the dangers of socialism, renewable energy and Medicare for all. He described the Senate Banking Committee, which would vet him if he were nominated, “as a bunch of yahoos.” He compared the right to health care to the right to own a Cadillac, and said God would decide when it was time to stop using fossil fuels.

“When God is ready for us not to have fossil fuels, he’ll find a way,” the former Godfather Pizza CEO told the audience at the Vickers Lecture Series at School of Business.

Cain also likened himself to Dr. Martin Luther King, and said: “You reach a point in your successful career where making more money isn’t inspiring enough.”

With the President’s consideration has come concerns about whether Cain is qualified for a job overseeing the world’s most powerful—and traditionally non-political—financial institution. In 2011, multiple allegations of sexual assault derailed his bid for president, and could once again be a roadblock for lawmakers who would confirm his nomination.

“I want to hear more about it. I think it’s a serious issue,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee. “And if there’s credence to it I think it is disqualifying.”

“Certainly all the allegations that have been reported in the news seem to be eye-catching, but we haven’t seen anything yet,” Committee member Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, said.

Cain on Wednesday denied the allegations again, saying that not one was ever proven to be true. And he expressed only derision for the banking panel.

“You think I’m going to get intimidated by a bunch of yahoos trying to embarrass me?” Cain said. “They’re the ones that are going to be embarrassed.”

But as of Thursday, Cain’s nomination already appeared doomed. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, became the fourth Republican to publicly announce opposition to Cain. Assuming every Democrat votes no, there are enough votes to sink Cain if the White House proceeds with its plan.

There’s more to Cain’s background than sexual assault allegations. He has a long history of senior positions with major companies, including Kansas City-based Hallmark, Pillsbury and Godfather’s Pizza.

Cain served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City for four years and as chairman from 1995 to 1996. He was an economic advisor to former Sen. Bob Dole during the Kansas Republican’s 1996 campaign for president.

Locally Cain is also remembered for his role at two Missouri energy companies, Aquila and Utilicorp United. Cain served on the Aquila board starting in 1992, and eventually chaired its compensation committee — at one point approving tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives while the company was hemorrhaging workers.

In 2002, 1,500 Aquila employees lost their jobs and a large portion of their retirement funds when the Kansas City energy giant’s stock fell 86%. That’s because the stock was the single biggest investment in employees’ 401(k) plans.

In 2004, a series of federal lawsuits alleged that Aquila’s board of directors, which Cain joined in 1992, had steered employees into heavily investing their retirement savings in company stock. A 2011 investigation by Mother Jones called the lawsuit “Herman Cain’s Enron-esque disaster,” referring to the Houston-based energy company that committed one of the biggest accounting frauds in history.

Aquila was acquired in 2008 by Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power and Light. In the past, representatives for Cain have issued statements defending the retention of top Aquila executives.

On Wednesday, Cain told The Star that he had no role in the mishandling of affairs at Aquila.

“I was off the board by then,” he said. “So I have no response, no comment about some of the incidents that they may have experienced.”

Despite Cain’s ties to the region, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said Tuesday he wasn’t aware Cain was being considered for a seat on the Fed.

“I don’t know him well, but I’ve met him on several occasions,” Roberts said. “When you first meet Herman Cain he’s very impressive… but whether he’s qualified to be on the Fed, I just don’t know.”

The Fed’s seven-member board of governors currently has two vacancies. Members of the board serve staggered 14-year terms.

Trump has also floated conservative economist Stephen Moore as a possible Fed appointee. In Kansas, Moore is largely known for his role in designing former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed tax experiment, which flatlined the state’s private sector growth.

“Herman Cain’s not qualified and everybody knows it. But make no mistake, neither is Stephen Moore,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “And we shouldn’t get so caught up in the excitement around Herman Cain that we neglect to give adequate scrutiny to Mr. Moore.”

Other lawmakers have been slow to support Cain, and many say they’re waiting on the results from the FBI’s background check before they make a choice. One of the major concerns has been keeping the Fed free of politicization.

“I think an appointment to the Federal Reserve should have deep technical background,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana. “I think it’s perfectly OK for a nominee to have a point of view about monetary policy and fiscal policy. I will vote against a nominee that I think has been sent there with a closed mind just to vote in a particular way without considering all of the evidence.”

Trump hasn’t given a solid indication of when he’ll move forward with formal nominations for either Cain or Moore, but told reporters Wednesday that he was optimistic about Cain, who created a pro-Trump super PAC called America Fighting Back in 2018.

“I like Herman Cain and Herman will make that determination,” Trump said.

“He’s just somebody I like a lot. As to how he’s doing in the process, that I don’t know . . . Herman’s a great guy and I hope he does well.”

After his remarks at the University of Kansas, Cain told The Star that the only reason he is facing so much criticism is because he’s conservative, a Trump supporter and black. “You add all that up, and all of the hack-attacks come out,” he said. “They are hacks and all they know how to do is attack.”

Lowry reported from Washington.