In surprise move, Corker backs Yellen for Fed

Janet Yellen’s bid to become the first female head of the Federal Reserve got a big boost Wednesday as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced he would back her nomination.

It's a noted turnaround from the Senate Banking Committee member, who strongly suggested a little over a month ago that he would oppose her. Corker’s support also strongly indicates that Yellen would be confirmed, as several other Republicans have indicated a willingness to vote for her.

In a statement released Wednesday, Corker said that he would have preferred a nominee with a “more modest view” on the limits of monetary policy but appreciated Yellen’s commitment to Fed transparency and her acknowledgment that the bank’s current monetary policy is unsustainable. He also said she was qualified to handle the job.

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A little over a month earlier, when Yellen was first nominated to replace Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke by President Obama, Corker struck a different tone about the pick.

In a statement then, Corker noted that he opposed Yellen in 2010 when she was nominated to serve as the Fed’s vice chair, citing her “dovish views” on monetary policy. He strongly suggested he would oppose the pick again.

“We will closely examine her record since that time, but I am not aware of anything that demonstrates her views have changed,” he said.

Several Republicans have been skeptical of Yellen, given her role in supporting the Fed’s extremely accommodative policy. The Fed is currently buying $85 billion of bonds a month in an effort to stimulate the economy, even as conservatives fret the central bank's strategy is distorting markets and exposing the U.S. to dangerous inflation.

At her confirmation hearing, Yellen did not shy away from backing that policy, saying it was needed to get the economy back to normal. But Corker said that his private conversations with Yellen revealed that she understands that policy is unsustainable and should end as soon as it is appropriate.

“She understands that monetary policy is a blunt object, that distortions are occurring, and that the affluent disproportionately benefit from easy money policies,” he said. “During our discussions, she made a commitment to moderate purchases as soon as she believes the data supports that action and shows that the current status cannot continue.”

The Senate Banking Committee is set to vote Thursday on Yellen’s nomination. She will not garner universal support — Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has already said he would oppose her, and questions from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the panel, indicated he would oppose the pick as well.

However, several Senate Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have indicated they are likely to back Yellen. Corker’s support suggests that several Republicans, including those less conservative than him, could provide the votes to get Yellen confirmed.