Janet Yellen cleared her final hurdle Monday on her historic path to secretary of the Treasury Department, gaining overwhelming Senate confirmation for the key economic position.
The 84-15 vote made Yellen the first female to the lead the department, a feat she matched as chair of the Federal Reserve.
After a mostly cordial hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, where she gained unanimous approval, Yellen was thought to be almost a sure thing for confirmation. However, the vote was delayed a few days as the upper chamber makes its way through the first week of President Joe Biden’s administration.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., urged his colleagues prior to the vote to approve what amounted to a fifth confirmation for Yellen to a government leadership role.
“Tonight, the Senate can deliver an especially important economic judgment: Confirm Janet Yellen a fifth time and know that she will work with every single one of us to get our workers, our small businesses and all Americans from sea to shining sea back on solid economic footing,” he said.
In her new position, Yellen will run an agency that will be charged with supporting Biden’s ambitious $1.9 trillion stimulus program, which comes just months after the federal government closed out fiscal 2020 with a deficit exceeding $3 trillion.
That persistent red ink, made far worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and the heaps of government spending that has gone to keep the economy running, has resulted in a national debt approaching $28 trillion.
While at the Fed, Yellen was in charge of steering the monetary policy that helped keep financing costs in check, though she has said that was never a consideration when the central bank was setting interest rates.
Yellen earned a reputation as a consensus builder at the Fed, a tool that will come in handy was she negotiates a divided Congress and a government that continues to practice a get-tough policy with China.
One of the “no” votes, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said he appreciated Yellen’s qualifications for the job but was disappointed that she did not, in a conversation with him, support a “robust all-of-the-above energy sector.”
She said during her confirmation that China must continue to be held accountable for its actions on trade and human rights.
Yellen also garnered some notice when she talked about the need to regulate cryptocurrencies at a time when bitcoin prices have exploded higher.
“I think we need to look closely at how to encourage their use for legitimate activities while curtailing their use for malign and illegal activities. If confirmed, I intend to work closely with the Federal Reserve Board and the other federal banking and securities regulators on how to implement an effective regulatory framework for these and other fintech innovations,” Yellen said.
Yellen succeeds Steven Mnuchin, who held the Treasury post for the past four years. Former President Donald Trump chose not to reappoint Yellen to lead the Fed following her term from 2014-18.