Janet Yellen was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the country’s 78th Treasury secretary and the first woman to hold the job, putting her in charge of overseeing an economy that continues to be hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate approved Yellen in a 84-15 vote on Monday, making her among the first of President Joe Biden’s cabinet picks to be confirmed. She will become only the second American to have been both Federal Reserve chair and Treasury secretary.
The 74-year-old was also the first woman to head the U.S. central bank, which she left in early 2018 after overseeing a winding back of monetary stimulus after the last recession and its slow recovery. Now, she’s back in crisis-fighting mode, this time as a Democratic administration’s top economic official.
Yellen’s top priority will be to stoke a recovery that’s weakened amid record Covid-19 deaths, by helping sell the $1.9 trillion Biden stimulus plan that’s run into resistance from GOP lawmakers. She will also help to shape policy toward China after the Trump administration’s legacy of confrontation and tariff hikes.
Other objectives include addressing the economic risks of climate change, with plans to set up a “hub” at the Treasury looking at the issue. She will also be responsible for tax policy, sanctions, the administration’s stance on the dollar, financing the government and ensuring the stability of the financial system.
“The symbolism and sense of technical expertise and decades of Washington experience that Janet Yellen brings will bring immediate credibility” to Biden’s economic agenda, said Tim Adams, who served as a Treasury undersecretary during the George W. Bush administration and now heads the Institute of International Finance, a banking group. “Yellen will be a key anchor of the economic team.”
Yellen has been a trailblazer throughout her career: She was the only woman out of 24 students in 1971 to earn a doctorate in economics from Yale University. She later taught economics at Harvard, and worked for more than 16 years at the Fed, including a stint as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco during the financial crisis.
She had an early look at the challenges of the new job in her confirmation hearing at the Senate Finance panel last week. Her argument that it’s critical to “act big” now with emergency deficit spending to avoid long-term “scarring” in the economy was rejected by Republican lawmakers voicing concerns about rising debt.