The Senate has voted to confirm economist Lisa Cook for a top position at the Federal Reserve.
Cook, a professor of economics at Michigan State University who served under President Barack Obama as a senior economist on the Council of Economic Advisers, was confirmed to a seat on the Fed’s Board of Governors on Tuesday evening despite united opposition from Republicans.
She will become the first black woman to sit on the Fed’s board. Cook was among a tranche of nominees to fill open positions at the central bank, which has been in the spotlight as inflation soars.
Other nominees still awaiting a full Senate vote include incumbent Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and prospective governor Phillip Jefferson.
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Republicans have pushed back on Cook’s nomination for her perceived partisanship and lack of experience working with monetary policy, while Democrats have accused GOP lawmakers of stonewalling her nomination to score political points.
Cook has spoken about reparations in the past, which is the idea that the government should subsidize or provide some payout to the descendants of slaves. She has supported legislation that would create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals.
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Banking Committee, has said Cook has “a history of inflammatory partisan rhetoric and extreme left-wing political advocacy.” He also has said she “appears to have no opinion at all” about how the Fed should rein in inflation.
“Professor Cook’s answers to basic questions about what the Fed should do to tame inflation amount to nothing more than word salad,” Toomey said in explaining his opposition to her nomination.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the chairman of the Banking Committee, has been a staunch defender and advocate of Cook. He has said Cook would bring a unique perspective to the Fed and has suggested that her race has played a factor in Republican disapproval of her nomination.
“She’s seen how economic policy affects all kinds of different people, in different parts of the country — from the rural South where she grew up to the industrial Midwest where she built her career,” Brown said. “These naysayers absurdly claim that Lisa Cook doesn’t meet the standards for this position — standards that only apply to certain nominees who happen to be women, particularly black women.”
Cook comes from a family of civil rights activists who have ties to civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. She is the first Marshall Scholar to graduate from Spelman College and earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.
While the Senate has confirmed Cook and Lael Brainard to serve as the Fed's vice chairwoman, it still needs to approve the nominations of Powell and Jefferson. Both nominees enjoy bipartisan support, with Powell being voted out of committee — only Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) voted against him — and Jefferson getting unanimous approval.
Sarah Bloom Raskin, Biden’s initial nominee to serve as the Fed's top banking regulator, withdrew her nomination when it became clear she would not garner enough votes to be approved. Biden has since nominated Michael Barr, one of the designers of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that overhauled the financial regulatory system, to serve as the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision.
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The Fed nominations are facing outsize attention this year given that inflation is the worst it has been since 1981. Consumer prices rose 8.5% for the 12 months ending in March, and the central bank has hiked its interest rate target twice in response.