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Cook inches toward Fed as Senate votes to discharge nomination

Cook would become first Black woman on the Fed board

Lisa Cook, on the verge of becoming the first Black woman on the Fed board, cleared a Senate hurdle Tuesday.
Lisa Cook, on the verge of becoming the first Black woman on the Fed board, cleared a Senate hurdle Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lisa Cook cleared another hurdle toward becoming the first Black woman to join the Federal Reserve Board as the Senate on Tuesday voted to discharge her nomination from committee.

The 50-49 vote clears the path for the Senate to vote on Cook’s confirmation after her nomination stalled this month with a 12-12 tie in the Senate Banking Committee. A tie in committee requires the Senate to vote to discharge the nomination before holding a vote on confirmation. 

“We’ve got to have a second vote because Republicans, for whatever reason, voted against Lisa Cook, including some calling her not qualified,” Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in an interview this month. “Only Spelman, Truman Scholar, Oxford and a Ph.D. at Berkeley, but I guess that’s not qualified if you’re a Black woman for this crowd.”

Cook, a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University, has spent most of her career in academia, with stints in government and visiting positions at Federal Reserve banks of Minneapolis, New York and Philadelphia and the National Bureau of Economic Research. She became a board member of the Chicago Fed in January.

Cook studied physics and philosophy at Spelman College, a historically Black college for women in Georgia, where she was a Truman Scholar. She was the first Spelman graduate to get a Marshall Scholarship, allowing her to study at the University of Oxford, where she earned a second degree in philosophy, politics and economics. 

“It is worth asking ourselves if these nominees are truly the ‘inflation fighters’ that the White House claims they are. In my view, one nominee in particular — professor Lisa Cook — dramatically fails this test,” Senate Banking ranking member Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “Professor Cook has nearly zero experience in monetary policy. She does have a Ph.D. in economics. However, not a single one of her publications concerns monetary economics.”

At a hearing in January, Toomey said Cook would be too timid on fighting inflation as the Fed addresses a 7.9 percent annual rate of price growth as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Cook defended her academic track record at her confirmation hearing. 

“I certainly am proud of my academic background. I know that I have been the target of anonymous and untrue attacks on my academic record,” she said. “I have a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. I specialized in macroeconomics and international economics.”

Cook’s areas of focus as an academic include macroeconomics, development, innovation, economic history and international finance. She has written about the intersection of race, policy and economics.

Cook was also senior economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 2011 to 2012 and worked for the Treasury Department from 2000 to 2001. She was a member of both President Joe Biden’s and Barack Obama’s transition teams.

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