Yellen wins unanimous Senate panel backing for Treasury post

Senate Finance vote bodes well for confirmation, but a floor vote was delayed until Monday

Janet Yellen, nominee for Treasury secretary, and retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, Joe Biden's pick to be Defense secretary, attend Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Janet Yellen, nominee for Treasury secretary, and retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, Joe Biden's pick to be Defense secretary, attend Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 22, 2021 at 12:21pm, Updated at 6:20pm

The Senate Finance Committee voted 26-0 to advance the nomination of Janet Yellen to be Treasury secretary, as Republicans noted their policy differences with her but cited Yellen’s promise to be responsive to their questions and work with them.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the powerful tax-writing committee’s incoming chairman, said after the markup that Democrats were hoping that Republicans would agree to bring Yellen’s vote to the floor Friday afternoon.

But party leaders couldn't gain consent to do so before Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer pulled the plug on further roll call votes during Friday's session. Schumer later said an agreement was reached to vote on Yellen's confirmation at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

“This is an urgent appointment and anybody who questions it, look at the unemployment numbers yesterday,” Wyden said, referring to the Labor Department’s report Thursday that there were 900,000 new claims for unemployment insurance for the week that ended Jan. 16.

After the vote, Wyden told reporters that he expected the unanimous vote to help make his case for a quick confirmation vote. “I can tell you a lot of times in the Senate, I don’t think we could get a 26 to nothing vote to agree to buy a soda,” he said.

Republicans on the Finance panel at least didn't seem inclined to drag out the process. “I imagine we’ll vote on her this afternoon,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said after the committee vote Friday. It wasn't immediately clear where objections to swift confirmation had come from.

Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, who will be Senate Finance’s ranking member, said he had “strong disagreements” with Yellen, particularly on tax issues. But he noted the commitments she made at her confirmation hearing Tuesday to work with Republicans.

“We want an era of collaboration and partnership in developing tax policy and the other policies this committee will work on,” Crapo said. “I think the strong vote on our side to support her today is an indication that we want to engage.”

For others, the unanimous vote was a nod to the new executive and to Yellen’s credentials that include four years as Federal Reserve chairwoman.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said he had concerns about Yellen’s positions and particularly with President Joe Biden’s push for a $15 per hour minimum wage. “I think he deserves the opportunity to put his Treasury team in place,” he said. “She’s not my secretary of the Treasury, she’s the choice of President Biden.”

Yellen encouraged Congress to “act big” on a relief package at her confirmation hearing Tuesday, which went smoothly for her without political fireworks. It took just over three hours, in contrast to 2017 when former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s hearing dragged on for five-and-a-half hours as Democrats accused him of profiting off the foreclosure crisis when his group of investors bought bankrupt mortgage originator IndyMac.

Democrats have been negotiating for fast-track treatment of Yellen's nomination all week. Wyden told panel members during Yellen’s Tuesday hearing that talks were underway that he hoped would lead to a Thursday confirmation.

“The sooner we confirm a Treasury secretary, the better,” Schumer said on the floor after the Senate convened Thursday.

Yellen has previously been confirmed by the Senate five times, including for Federal Reserve chairwoman, a job she held from 2014 to 2018. She was also confirmed for the Fed's No. 2 position, where she was vice chairwoman from 2010 to 2014, after serving as a Fed board member in the 1990s. Yellen was also confirmed as White House Council of Economic Advisers chairwoman during President Bill Clinton's second term.

Chris Cioffi and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.