Yellen confirmed as first female Treasury secretary

Former Federal Reserve chairwoman will have a tough job navigating pandemic-induced economic slowdown

Janet Yellen testifies before the Senate Banking Committee in 2017 while she was Federal Reserve chairwoman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Janet Yellen testifies before the Senate Banking Committee in 2017 while she was Federal Reserve chairwoman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 25, 2021 at 2:52pm

The Senate on Monday confirmed Janet Yellen as secretary of the Treasury, making her the first woman to hold the position.

The 84-15 vote makes Yellen the third of President Joe Biden's nominees to be confirmed, after Senate confirmation last week of Avril Haines as director of national intelligence and Lloyd Austin as secretary of Defense.

Democrats had urged a quick confirmation of Biden’s pick for Treasury, who they said would be integral to righting a struggling economy. The Labor Department reported last Thursday that there were 900,000 new claims for unemployment insurance for the week that ended Jan. 16.

­­­“This is an urgent appointment and anybody who questions it, look at the unemployment numbers yesterday,” Wyden said Friday when the Senate Finance Committee met to approve Yellen's nomination on a 26-0 vote.

Yellen was confirmed just six days after her Jan. 19 confirmation hearing. Four years ago, when former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also had his confirmation hearing on Jan. 19, Democrats boycotted his committee vote and he wasn’t confirmed until 25 days later on Feb. 13, 2017 in a 53-47 party-line vote.

Republicans agreed to the quick vote despite reservations about Yellen’s policy stances.

Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, who will be Senate Finance’s ranking member once party leaders agree on an organizing resolution, 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 committee 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 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.

Monday’s vote marks Yellen’s sixth confirmation by the full Senate, including as Federal Reserve chairwoman, a job she held from 2014 to 2018. Yellen was also the first woman to lead the Fed.

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.