President Joe Biden's nominees to serve on the Federal Reserve's powerful board of governors were greeted at a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday with praise from Democrats and skepticism from Republicans, who questioned their qualifications and views on climate change.
The appearance before the Senate Banking Committee was the first by the three racially diverse candidates whom Biden announced last month to fill the empty seats on the seven-member board, which will lead the world's most influential central bank as it deals with a historic inflation spike and the economy's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
If all three were confirmed, the board would have a female majority for the first time, and its first Black female member. It would also mean most of its members were named by a Democratic president.
While Democrats characterized them as qualified, the Republican opposition questioned their qualifications and whether they would politicize the Fed.
Sarah Bloom Raskin, the nominee for vice chair for supervision, which regulates the nation's banks, was singled out over writings which Republicans said show a bias against the oil and gas industry.
"The Fed should not pick or favor any sector at all," said Raskin, who is white. "The Fed is not in the business of choosing winners and losers."
The hearings come as Fed officials pivot their monetary policy, signaling they will likely raise rates from zero in March to fight inflation, and end the easy money policies rolled out to bolster the economy nearly two years ago at the pandemic's start.
None of the officials signaled dissent with the policies currently pursued by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.
Lisa Cook, an economics professor at Michigan State University who would be the first African American woman to serve as Fed governor, said "I agree with the Fed's path right now as we're speaking."
The third nominee was Philip Jefferson of Davidson College, who would be the fourth Black man ever to serve on the body. He highlighted his research finding that long periods of economic growth can bring gains for workers.
"If I were confirmed, I would very much want to advocate for policies on the part of the Fed, that would lead to long expansions that are non-inflationary," he said.
Jefferson has a lower public profile than the other candidates, and received some comments of approval from Republicans in the hearing.
However, both Raskin and Cook were familiar to lawmakers and faced more opposition.
Raskin previously served as Fed governor and in a senior role at the Treasury Department under former president Barack Obama, as well as the top state bank regulator in Maryland.
She has called for the Fed to ensure financial institutions take climate risks into consideration, something Powell, a Republican, also endorses.
Biden has nominated him to a second term as Fed chair, and named Democratic current board member Lael Brainard to serve as vice chair. They are also awaiting Senate confirmation.
Climate change has emerged as a divisive issue for central bank candidates, with some Democrats attacking Powell for not focusing more on the issue.
For Republicans, as well as the powerful US Chamber of Commerce, the concern is that Raskin would use a position on the central bank board to cut polluting industries off from capital.
"The idea will be to allocate capital away from the heavily carbon-emitting parts of our economy. How do I know that? Because Miss Raskin has told us this repeatedly," Senator Pat Toomey, the ranking Republican on committee, said at the hearing.
Race and qualifications
Cook's opponents have questioned her qualifications and said she doesn't have the background fo
Other board members, including Powell, are not trained economists, and Cook and Jefferson have researched inequality in the labor market, a topic Powell has repeatedly highlighted as important.
"I have been the target of anonymous and untrue attacks on my academic record," Cook told lawmakers, citing as qualifications a doctorate degree and her specialties in international and macro economics.
Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, the committee's chair, hit back at these criticisms, saying, "There's been a lot of hyperventilating about today's nominees that's based on hyperbole and misrepresentation rather than their actual records and experience."