WASHINGTON — With his term set to expire Jan. 31, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke's future was unclear on Friday as Senate Democratic leaders scrambled to save his nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to canvass members of his caucus to see how many would support the Fed chief's nomination to a second, four-year term. Sen. Tim Johnson, who will likely take charge of the Senate Banking Committee next year, pressed colleagues to support Bernanke.
"It is imperative that the full Senate move forward with his nomination," the South Dakota Democrat said in a press release Friday. "We need steady leadership at the Federal Reserve at this crucial time."
The plea came after Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., said Friday they would vote against Bernanke. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who caucuses with Democrats, has already said he would not support Bernanke, and called the vote a "once in a lifetime opportunity to reform Wall Street."
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., opposed Bernanke's nomination in the Senate Banking Committee, and is not likely to change his mind when it comes to a vote on the floor.
Other Democrats were wavering late Friday, including Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
The changing situation makes Republican votes all the more valuable, but Sen. Richard Shelby, the top GOP member of the Senate Banking Committee, is expected to continue to oppose Bernanke. Other lawmakers, less familiar with financial issues, have been calling his office in recent days to learn more about his position.
Representatives of at least two Republican Senate Banking members who supported Bernanke in committee — Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Mike Johanns of Nebraksa — said those lawmakers would continue to support Bernanke.
It is unclear how many Republicans will ultimately vote against Bernanke and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is said to be waiting to see how the Democratic picture will shake out before doing a whip count of his own.
The Obama administration reiterated its support of Bernanke on Friday. A White House spokesman said Obama "continues to think he is the best person for the job and will be confirmed by the United States Senate."
Analysts are less sure. In a note to clients Friday, Concept Capital's Washington Research Group said it believed there is a 55% chance that Bernanke will not be reconfirmed.
In that instance, Donald Kohn, the Fed's vice chairman, would likely take control of the central bank at least temporarily. What happens after that, however, is unclear. Kohn's term as vice chairman expires on June 23. The White House spokesman would not comment Friday on whether Obama has a contingency plan in the event that Bernanke does not win confirmation.