Lisa Cook confirmed to Fed board as Harris breaks tie

Wellesley College

The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Michigan State University economics professor Lisa Cook to the Federal Reserve Board along party lines.

Senators voted 50 to 50 on Cook’s confirmation, with Vice President Harris casting the tiebreaking vote and approving her to be the first Black woman to serve as a governor of the Fed board.

All 50 Senate Democrats voted to confirm Cook, who also served as a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors during the Obama administration and serves on the executive committee of the American Economic Association. Every GOP senator voted against her.

The Senate ended debate on her nomination in an earlier Tuesday vote, several weeks after Republicans successfully quashed an attempt to do so with several Democratic senators out with COVID-19.

Cook’s confirmation makes her President Biden’s second Senate-confirmed Fed nominee and his first addition to the Fed board. Senators voted last month to confirm Fed Governor Lael Brainard as vice chair of the Fed board, but she has not yet been sworn in to her new role. 

The Senate is also expected to confirm Fed Chair Jerome Powell for another term leading the central bank and Davidson College economics professor Philip Jefferson as a Fed governor within days. Both are expected to be confirmed by wide bipartisan margins after easily clearing the Senate Banking Committee.

Senate Democrats, who control the chamber’s schedule, have waited to schedule votes on Powell and Jefferson until successfully confirming Cook over unanimous Republican objections.

Democratic lawmakers and liberal policy groups had urged Biden to nominate Cook to the Fed as soon as he clinched the presidential election. Cook’s supporters in Congress and the hundreds of economists who urged for her confirmation — including Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke — said her groundbreaking research into the economic effects of racism and deep background in economic history would bring fresh perspectives to the central bank. 

“We know that she understands 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,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

“The cookie-cutter people we always get on the Federal Reserve,” he said, “don’t know real people, and Lisa Cook knows real people.”

Cook’s backers also touted her deep knowledge of global financial and economic stability issues as the Fed continues to manage the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republicans, however, said Cook’s limited academic focus on monetary economics and several politically charged posts on Twitter made her unqualified for the Fed board as the bank faced the highest inflation in more than 40 years. 

“It’s no question, these are impressive credentials,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, in a speech on the Senate floor.

“But they do not by themselves qualify her, or anyone else for that matter, to serve as a governor of the Fed, especially at a time when we need a Fed that is able and willing to tackle 40-year high inflation that’s devastating American families every single day,” he added.

Toomey added that Cook “has not been able to articulate any opinion at all” on how the Fed should fight inflation, calling her comments on inflation during her confirmation hearing “logical applesauce.”

Democrats have called Republican concerns about her credentials overblown and hypocritical, citing broad Republican support for several of former President Trump’s Fed nominees who had little monetary academic experience and much longer records of political advocacy, including Steven Moore and Herman Cain.

Brown also cited Toomey’s support for Trump Fed nominee Judy Shelton, a former Trump campaign adviser who urged the central bank to cut interest rates to bolster the previous president’s trade war with China before her nomination. Shelton, Cain and Moore did not receive enough Republican support to overcome unanimous Democratic opposition.

“Spelman College, Truman Scholar, Marshall Scholar, Ph.D. at Berkeley, tenure at one of America’s great universities, Michigan State University, and they say she’s not qualified. And Judy Shelton was. Really?” Brown said.

Tags Joe Biden Kamala Harris Lisa Cook

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