26 Jan Yellen wins overwhelming Senate support as first female US Treasury chief
WASHINGTON: Janet Yellen won overwhelming Senate confirmation as the first woman to lead the US Treasury on Monday, setting her quickly to work with Congress on coronavirus relief, reviewing US sanctions policy and strengthening financial regulation.
The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Yellen, with all opposition coming from Republicans, several of whom have expressed concerns about President Joe Biden’s proposed US$1.9 trillion coronavirus aid plan, tax hikes and other spending initiatives.
Shortly after the vote, House of Representatives Democrats delivered to the Senate a charge of impeachment against former President Donald Trump, accusing him of inciting insurrection in a speech to supporters before the Jan 6 storming of the US Capitol.
The planned February trial has stoked some partisan divisions in the chamber, but those were largely absent on Monday.
“Secretary Yellen’s confirmation shatters another glass ceiling,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement. “In a field dominated by men, it’s refreshing to finally see a woman leading the Treasury Department.”
Yellen, 74, made history in 2014 when she became the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve.
A portrait of the economist and daughter of a Brooklyn, New York, family doctor will join those of 76 other secretaries in Treasury’s hallways, dating back to the first, Alexander Hamilton.
The White House had no immediate comment on when Yellen would be sworn in, or by whom.
She won the votes of 34 Republicans in a strong bipartisan vote, with a number of them pledging to work with her.
“I hope bipartisanship continues & we can work 2gether on commonsense tax/fiscal policy for all Americans,” Republican Senator Chuck Grassley wrote on Twitter.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz congratulated Yellen and voiced hope that she could help lead progress on reaching an international agreement on digital taxation. He told Reuters: “Janet Yellen is a very impressive person.”
Yellen will play a key role in working with Congress on Biden’s coronavirus stimulus plans and on his pledges to invest US$2 trillion in infrastructure, green energy projects, education and research to boost American competitiveness.
Treasury will oversee Biden’s plans to help finance these initiatives by trying to persuade Congress to raise the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21% and increase taxes on Americans making over US$400,000 a year.
Republicans have expressed concerns over the price tag and increased debt in a return to fiscal conservatism after running up deficits during Trump’s term with 2017 tax cuts and nearly US$5 trillion in coronavirus spending.
Yellen told senators at her confirmation hearing last week that they needed to raise the minimum wage and “act big” on stimulus measures or risk a longer, more painful recession brought on by the pandemic.
Yellen also said during her confirmation hearing that she would conduct an immediate review of US financial sanctions policy administered by Treasury to ensure that they were used “strategically and appropriately” after a major ramp-up of such measures under the Trump administration.
Yellen’s confirmation less than a week after Biden took office is quick by recent standards. Her Republican predecessor, Steven Mnuchin, was not confirmed until three weeks after Trump’s 2017 inauguration on a party-line vote.
The Treasury on Monday announced more members of Yellen’s team, bringing back some Obama administration veterans who served at the agency.
The Treasury named Natalie Wyeth Earnest as counsellor to the secretary for strategic communications.
Earnest served as assistant secretary for public affairs at Treasury under former Secretary Jack Lew and in various communications roles under former Secretary Tim Geithner.
Mark Mazur, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and a former Treasury assistant secretary for tax policy, was named as deputy assistant secretary for tax policy in Treasury’s Office of Legislative Affairs.