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Senate confirms Powell to second term as Fed chairman

Powell has been acting chairman since February

Jerome Powell, confirmed Thursday for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman, faces an inflation rate not seen in about 40 years.
Jerome Powell, confirmed Thursday for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman, faces an inflation rate not seen in about 40 years. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Jerome Powell sailed through the Senate on Thursday with strong bipartisan support for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

The Senate voted 80-19 to confirm Powell, who will preside over the Fed as it makes decisions about how to tackle inflation that has reached a level not seen since the early 1980s. Powell, who has been acting chairman since February, drew praise from senators during the confirmation process for his handling of the economic fallout in the early months of the pandemic. But he now faces the task of reining in inflation that is running at its fastest pace in 40 years. 

Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Powell earned a second term as Fed chairman.

“He’s been a steadfast defender of the Federal Reserve’s independence, resisting unprecedented attacks by former president Trump to politicize the Fed,” Brown said on the floor. “He played an instrumental role in stabilizing our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s been a reliable voice and a steady hand through this crisis.”

Powell in recent months has spoken more aggressively about curbing inflation, after referring to rising prices as “transitory” until November last year. 

The Fed has raised the fed funds rate by three-quarters of a percent since the year began to slow inflation. Powell said last week he expects another increase of half a percentage point at the Fed’s next monetary policy meeting.

Last month, the consumer price index measured an 8.3 percent annual inflation rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., voted against confirmation. Warren previously criticized Powell’s loosening of bank regulations, calling him a “dangerous man” to lead the Fed in a September hearing. 

President Joe Biden nominated Powell in November. His confirmation was held up despite strong bipartisan support due to a boycott by Senate Banking Republicans targeting Sarah Bloom Raskin, Biden’s nominee to be the Fed’s vice chair for supervision. Raskin withdrew from consideration in March. Biden nominated former Treasury official Michael Barr for the job instead.

Powell joined the Fed board in 2012, after being nominated by President Barack Obama, and was elevated to his first term as chairman in 2018 by President Donald Trump. Powell’s term as chairman expires in 2026 and as a board member in 2028.

Of Biden’s Fed nominees, only Barr, who was nominated last month, still awaits a confirmation hearing and vote. The Senate confirmed Lisa Cook on Tuesday and Philip Jefferson on Wednesday to join the Fed board. The chamber voted last month to designate Fed board member Lael Brainard as the central bank’s vice chair. 

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