Key senators lead charge for Bernanke

Over the past few days, five key senators have led a counteroffensive against a tide of opposition to the reconfirmation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

After signs emerged that Bernanke’s appointment to a second term may have been in danger, public statements from high-powered senators have been helping pave the way for his confirmation.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday kicked off the defense of the embattled Fed chairman, issuing a statement that he will vote for his confirmation.

Next, top senators from two key committees said they would back Bernanke for a second term.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) issued a joint statement, saying, “We support his nomination because he is the right leader to guide the Federal Reserve in this recovering economy.”

The second-ranking Senate Democrat, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), followed his three colleagues on Saturday evening in announcing his support for Bernanke. Veteran Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) joined his colleagues on Saturday evening.

The quick response on behalf of the senatorial heavyweights belies the urgency of Bernanke’s confirmation vote and uncertainty in the nation’s financial markets surrounding his reconfirmation.

Stock markets took a dip over the course of the week when Bernanke’s nomination fell into doubt. No less than 13 Democratic and Republican senators indicated over the course of the week that they would not support Bernanke’s second term. His first term expires Jan. 31.

Reid pushed back Bernanke’s confirmation vote scheduled for Friday, adding to a week of political headaches for the Obama administration that had hoped for a smooth confirmation vote before the full Senate.

The White House was expected to spend the days leading up to the State of the Union address outlining the president’s positive economic agenda.

Instead, Obama and his top advisers spent much of the second half of last week making calls to senators seeking to shore up Bernanke’s nomination.

By the weekend, administration officials were confident enough to again express confidence that the Fed chairman would remain in his position.

"President Obama checked in with the leadership over the weekend and he hears from Senator Reid that there is a lot of support for Ben Bernanke. We are confident that the chairman will be confirmed," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Jarrett echoed a sentiment expressed by her colleagues, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who hit the airwaves on "Fox News Sunday” and senior adviser David Axelrod, who appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week.”

Just as administration officials predicted that Bernanke would survive this week’s hiccup, Dodd and Gregg exuded assurance about him Saturday.

"Based on our discussions with our colleagues, we are very confident that Chairman Bernanke will win confirmation by the Senate for a second term," the pair of retiring senators said.

The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Sunday also said that Bernanke will likely earn a second term, though he refused to disclose how he will vote.

Opposition to Bernanke has channeled voter anger about the sputtering economy and the unpopular banking bailouts of 2008.

Bernanke – who was first appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007 – presided over the nation’s central bank as it extended loans to large, troubled financial institutions during the financial crisis.

Senators who oppose Bernanke claim that he has focused too much on policies that help Wall Street banks and has not done enough to help out the middle class.

“Democrats and President Obama are putting their credibility on the line if they think they can criticize Wall Street and big banks one day and then turn around and support Bernanke, Wall Street’s candidate, the next day,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a statement Sunday. “That doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Sanders and Sens. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and David Vitter (R-La.) have all placed holds on Bernanke’s nomination.

Last year, 16 senators on the Banking Committee backed Bernanke's nomination and seven voted no. Assuming those lawmakers do not change their positions, there are now 25 senators who back Bernanke and 13 who oppose him, according to a survey conducted on Friday by The Hill. Many offices declined to comment or indicated their boss was undecided.

Some senators on the Banking panel, such as Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), have indicated they could change their mind.

Lawmakers who oppose Bernanke other than those on the Banking panel include Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on "Face the Nation" Sunday that he was "very skeptical" about Bernanke's nomination, but also was wary of the effect that turning down the Fed chairman for another term could have.

"The fact is that Chairman Bernanke was in charge when we hit the iceberg. And his policies were partially responsible for the meltdown that we experienced. I think that he should be held accountable," McCain said.

When asked if he was backing or opposing Bernanke, McCain said, "I'm both concerned and leaning against."

But in another example of the growing momentum behind Bernanke, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a frequent critic of the Obama administration, on Sunday announced he will join the senators voting for Bernanke.

"This man knows what he's doing. Yes, can he improve? You bet your life. But I'm going to vote for him," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Molly K. Hooper, Silla Brush, Matthew Coleman and Anthony C. Lange contributed to this report