Before President Obama nominated Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve, her entire professional career seemed to be preparing her for this one specific job. The celebrated economist ran the San Francisco Fed, ran the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, served three years on the Fed Board of Governors, and was the board’s vice-chair at the time of her nomination. When Dylan Matthews called her “perhaps the most qualified Fed chair in history,” no one disagreed.
And though it took slightly longer than necessary, the confirmation process came to a sensible conclusion last night.
Janet Yellen now exerts more control over U.S. economic policy than any woman in history, thanks to a bipartisan Senate vote making her the country’s new chair of the Federal Reserve. On Monday evening, the Senate voted 56-26 to make her the country’s top banker.Yellen, who previously served as the vice chair of the Fed under her predecessor Ben Bernanke, will inherit a declining but still relatively high jobless rate. During her confirmation hearings, Yellen indicated that she would continue many of Bernanke’s policies in an attempt to bring down unemployment and promote financial stability.
The final roll call is online here, including the list of 18 senators – 8 Democrats, 8 Republicans, and 2 independents who caucus with Dems – who were not able to reach Capitol Hill due to inclement weather.
Had all senators been able to reach the chamber last night, Yellen would have received 10 or 11 additional confirmation votes, bringing the total to 66 or 67. While that may sound like a pretty strong majority of the divided chamber, note that this would have been the closest confirmation margin of any Fed Chair nominee in the history of the institution.
Which, under the circumstances, is truly ridiculous. As Matt Yglesias put it, “I understand of course that these are days of high polarization and lots of partisanship. But this really is a dismaying quantity of no votes, especially as the nays were hardly offering much in the way of compelling arguments.”
Yellen is not only exceptionally well qualified for the position, she’s also the first woman to ever hold the post, and arguably one of the most powerful woman policymakers in American history. Senate Republicans knew she’d be confirmed anyway, but a majority of them still opposed her nomination, for reasons they’ve struggled to explain.
Of course, there is no great mystery here. Obama nominated Yellen, therefore Republicans must oppose Yellen. It’s blind, purposeless, reflexive partisanship.
Historically, most senators believed nominees deserved support unless there was a compelling rationale to vote against him or her. The burden has obviously shifted in the Obama era – for most Senate Republicans, the knee-jerk position is that nominees deserve opposition, compelling rationales be damned.