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Biden taps Yellen to lead barrier-breaking economic team

·3-min read

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced he will nominate former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen to lead the Treasury, topping a slate of economic officials who would break racial and gender barriers in the US government.

The rollout of Biden's economic team comes after running mate Kamala Harris made history as the first woman, first Black person and first person of South Asian descent to win the vice presidency.

If they win Senate approval, Yellen would be the first female Treasury secretary, and would be joined in the executive branch by the first African Americans to serve as her deputy and as head of the White House economic council, as well as the first South Asian in a key budget role.

"We face great challenges as a country right now. To recover, we must restore the American dream -- a society where each person can rise to their potential and dream even bigger for their children," Yellen tweeted following the announcement.

"As Treasury Secretary, I will work every day towards rebuilding that dream for all."

Job number one for the 74-year-old, who previously made history as the first female Federal Reserve chief from 2014 to 2018, will be helping the US economy recover from the sharp downturn in growth and mass layoffs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unless lawmakers are able to overcome their differences in the closing weeks of the year, she will likely be tasked with convincing Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass another spending bill to power the recovery amid a months-long deadlock on new aid.

"As we get to work to control the virus, this is the team that will deliver immediate economic relief for the American people during this economic crisis and help us build our economy back better than ever," Biden said in a statement announcing his appointments.

He has stressed that he would strive for diversity while choosing staff for when he takes office in January.

- Confirmation in question? -

Yellen's nomination was first reported last week, and Biden and Harris will present the nominees at an event on Tuesday.

Chuck Grassley, the Republican senator currently leading the Finance Committee that would hold Yellen's confirmation hearing should the party maintain its current control of the chamber following two January elections in Georgia, told reporters Yellen would likely get a "favorable view."

Many of the others tapped for Biden's economic team are veterans of former president Barack Obama's administration.

Nigerian-born Wally Adeyemo, a former deputy national security advisor and current president of the Obama Foundation non-profit, was picked as deputy Treasury secretary. He would be the first African American in that role.

Neera Tanden, president of liberal think tank Center for American Progress, was picked to head the Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed, she would be its first South Asian leader.

However, Tanden, former adviser to Hillary Clinton, who lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, faces criticism from conservatives and progressives alike which could jeopardize her chances of confirmation by the Senate.

Also named was Cecilia Rouse, the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, tapped to chair the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), who would be the first African American in that post.

Jared Bernstein, who previously advised Biden when he was vice president under Obama, will join the CEA, as will Washington Center for Equitable Growth President Heather Boushey.

Yellen would take over as Treasury secretary from Steven Mnuchin, who worked with Congress on passing the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March that expanded unemployment payments and offered loans and grants to small businesses.

Those measures were seen as key in keeping the US from an even worse economic slowdown, but they expired over the summer and, despite talks with Mnuchin, Democrats controlling the House and Republicans leading the Senate have failed to agree on how much to spend, or what to spend it on.

A study from progressive think tank The Century Foundation released last week said 12 million Americans will be receiving aid from government programs that will expire at the end of the year.