Biden Nominates Yellen for Treasury Secretary

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - DECEMBER 01: U.S. Secretary of the Treasury nominee Janet Yellen speaks during an event to name President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team at the Queen Theater on December 1, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden is nominating and appointing key positions to the Treasury Department, Office of Management and Budget, and the Council of Economic Advisers. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

 Alex Wong / Staff

President-elect Joe Biden nominated Janet Yellen to be U.S. Treasury secretary Tuesday, tapping an experienced figure to navigate economic policy during one of the most critical junctures in the country’s history.

Yellen, 74, is no stranger to guiding the monetary affairs of the nation, having served in the powerful role of chair of the Federal Reserve Board between 2014 and 2018 under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Her long career as an economist dates back to the 1970s when she started working for the Federal Reserve. She’s taught at Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the London School of Economics, and served as a top economic adviser to President Bill Clinton. 

“No one is better prepared to deal with these crises,” Biden said during a Tuesday press conference in which he nominated several key members of his economic team.

As Treasury secretary, Yellen would take on an unprecedented burden, the COVID-19 pandemic, advising Biden on how to guide the economy back from one of the worst crises since the Great Depression. The Treasury Department is the agency responsible for promoting economic prosperity and ensuring the country’s financial security; Yellen would have broad authority over everything from advising on monetary policy and managing public debt to prosecuting counterfeiters and collecting taxes. The man who currently holds the position, Trump appointee Steven Mnuchin, has been the point person leading the White House negotiations with Congress over another stimulus bill.

The Treasury also supervises national banks, and Yellen has demonstrated her willingness to use the power of the government to crack down on large financial institutions. Just before leaving her post as Fed Chair, Yellen notably slapped Wells Fargo with an order harshly restricting its growth, punishing the bank for “widespread consumer abuses,” including opening millions of fraudulent or unauthorized accounts or products.

Nonetheless, Wall Street seemed to welcome Yellen’s nomination, perhaps indicating relief that the job wouldn’t go to the famously tough-on-banking Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. 

“Markets breathed a sigh of relief as bankers remember Senator Warren spearheading the development of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and uncertainty that might come along with that line of government policy,” analysts at First Trust Advisors wrote in a commentary referencing the increase in benchmark stock indexes last week, amid reports of her potential nomination.

Biden called Yellen “one of the most important economic thinkers of our time,” referring to her influential academic writing on economic issues including unemployment. She has worked with a number of coalitions, think tanks, and advisory boards, including the Brookings Institution, where she has been a distinguished fellow in residence since 2018. 

Yellen said Tuesday she intends not only to help the country recover from the pandemic, but to address longstanding racial, gender, and educational inequalities. 

“The pandemic and economic fallout put together have caused so much damage for so many, and have had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable among us,” she said at the nomination press conference. “It’s a convergence of tragedies that is not only economically unsustainable, but one that betrays our commitment to giving every American an equal chance to get ahead.”