Senate confirms Janet Yellen as first woman treasury secretary

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Chris Sommerfeldt, New York Daily News
·3 min read
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The Senate confirmed Janet Yellen to become the first female treasury secretary in American history on Monday, putting the Brooklyn-born economist in a key post as President Biden seeks to turn the tide on the coronavirus pandemic’s financial fallout.

Yellen, who was nominated by Biden in late November, won confirmation to head the Treasury Department in a 84-15 vote. The senators who voted against her nomination were all Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), also a Brooklyn native, said before the vote that he was “so proud” of Yellen for becoming the first woman to hold the prestigious Treasury Department post.

“No one has more experience for this job,” Schumer tweeted.

Yellen, 74, drew little controversy during her confirmation hearing last week, and the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to send her nomination to the full chamber.

Before Monday evening’s final confirmation vote, many Republican senators spoke glowingly of Yellen’s extensive resume and said she’s the right person to lead the Treasury Department, even if some of them took issue with her specific views on taxation and other policies.

“When the American people elect a president, and when that president selects qualified and mainstream people for key posts, the whole nation deserves for them to be able to assemble their team,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted for Yellen.

Raised in Bay Ridge and a graduate of Fort Hamilton High School, Yellen spent over a decade teaching economics at Harvard and Berkeley Universities before joining the Federal Reserve as a member of its Board of Governors in 1994.

She left the Fed in 1997 to chair President Bill Clinton’s White House Council of Economic Advisers. She then squeezed in a six-year term as the head of San Francisco’s central bank before President Barack Obama picked her in 2014 to chair the Federal Reserve, a post she also became the first woman to hold. She left the Fed chair in 2018 after President Trump opted against reappointing her.

As treasury secretary, Yellen will play a key role in congressional negotiations over Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus proposal, which seeks to boost unemployment benefits and provide a range of other relief to soothe the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic.

Republicans and even some moderate Democrats have balked at Biden’s proposed package as too large, but Yellen is expected to press the case that spending more cash now will save the U.S. from suffering worse financial hits in the long run.

Beyond the pandemic, Yellen is expected to be a central force in Biden’s push for boosting the federal minimum wage and adopting economic recovery legislation focused on reducing inequality.

“Well before COVID-19 infected a single American, we were living in a K-shaped economy, where wealth built upon wealth while working families fell farther and farther behind,” Yellen said in her confirmation hearing. “We have to rebuild our economy so that it creates more prosperity, for more people.”