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Senate confirms Lisa Cook as the first Black woman on the Federal Reserve Board

Republicans challenged Cook's qualifications

Lisa Cook won Senate confirmation Tuesday for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board. She will become its first Black woman board member.
Lisa Cook won Senate confirmation Tuesday for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board. She will become its first Black woman board member. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Lisa Cook as the first Black woman to join the Federal Reserve Board.

Vice President Kamala Harris broke the 50-50 Senate tie, bringing to a close a nomination that started in January. Cook faced hurdles along the way, including a boycott by Senate Banking Committee Republicans, a tied committee vote and a floor vote to discharge the nominee, and a cloture vote in late April derailed by pandemic-related Democratic absences.

“Republicans have done all they could to block it and block her, as they have with a number of accomplished Black women,” Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in an interview. “It’s been a year of Republican diversionary tactics, boycotts, and digging in and opposition to her and to several others.”

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 joined the Chicago Fed Board of Directors in January.

Republicans led by Senate Banking ranking member Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania mounted opposition to Cook’s nomination early, starting at her January confirmation hearing. Toomey and others have since said Cook lacks the necessary experience in monetary policy and would be too timid on inflation. 

Cook holds a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated from Spelman College, an historically Black college for women in Georgia. She was the first graduate of the school to earn a Marshall Scholarship, which paid for her to study at Oxford University where she earned a second degree. 

In a floor speech last month, Toomey denied race played a role in Republicans’ opposition to Cook.

“The fact is we have a difference of opinion about what qualifies a person to serve on the Fed,” he said, adding that committee Republicans voted to advance five Black women nominated by Biden.

Republican opposition delayed but did not derail Cook’s confirmation. In March, Cook was among the six nominees caught up in Senate Banking Republicans’ boycott of Sarah Bloom Raskin’s nomination to be the Fed vice chair for supervision. Raskin later withdrew from consideration.

After Republicans ended the boycott, a committee vote to advance Cook’s nomination to the full Senate ended in a 12-12 tie. The Senate voted in March to discharge her nomination from the committee.  

Last month, Democrats lacked the votes needed to invoke cloture on Cook’s nomination after  Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut tested positive for COVID-19. Their return cleared the path for two votes Tuesday, to invoke cloture and confirm Cook.

Cook fills a position last held by Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who left her seat on the board in 2018. The term expires in January 2024 and Cook would be eligible for a second term.

Brown said he hopes the Senate will vote this week on acting Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s nomination to a second term as chair, and on Philip Jefferson’s nomination to join the board. Senate Banking voted unanimously in March  to advance Jefferson and 23-1 to advance Powell, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., dissenting. 

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