Lisa Cook has made history, becoming the first Black woman confirmed to a seat on the Federal Reserve’s seven-member board of governors.
The Senate confirmed Cook Tuesday in a 50-50 vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie in the affirmative.
Cook’s path to confirmation was not easy. Republicans repeatedly threw up roadblocks and questioned whether the distinguished economist was even qualified for the job at all.
Cook is a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University. In January, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago named her to its board of directors. (President Joe Biden plays no role in choosing the boards of the regional Fed banks.)
Cook also served on the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama and as an adjunct professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She earned her doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, in macroeconomics and international economics.
But all that wasn’t enough for some conservatives, who said she was radical, unqualified and nominated only because of her race.
“This is not the place in this time of great peril for purely race-based appointments,” former Donald Trump adviser Peter Navarro told the right-wing Daily Caller. “Professor Cook is more qualified to coach an NFL team than manage what may be a looming collapse of our economy from a perch at the Fed.”
Cook has done extensive work on the effects gender and racial inequality have on economic growth.
In January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the attacks on Cook “racist, sexist and just plain dumb,” noting that her expertise is exactly what the Fed needs at this moment.
“One of the things we know is that Black unemployment stays persistently at about double the level of white unemployment. So just asking a question generally about unemployment doesn’t get to a fundamental problem about not just total how many people are unemployed, but how that pain is distributed throughout the economy and how different economic policies might change. That’s what Lisa Cook focuses on. And that frankly makes some people uncomfortable.”
The Senate Banking Committee deadlocked on advancing Cook to the floor in a 12-12 vote. In order to get her confirmed, the full Senate had to instead vote to discharge her nomination out of committee ― which passed along party lines in late March.
Democrats tried to move Cook forward on the floor last month, but they didn’t have enough votes to overcome opposition because of the absence of two senators who had contracted COVID-19.
In March, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the committee’s ranking member, said Cook “has nearly zero experience in monetary policy” and “appears to have no opinion at all on how the Fed should address inflation.”
Many other members of the Fed ― including ones supported by Republicans ― have had little to no experience in monetary policy. And monetary policy expertise is not a requirement to be on the board.
Jerome Powell, the current Fed chair, for example, is a lawyer who was a partner at the private equity giant The Carlyle Group. Michelle Bowman, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, worked in the banking industry and the federal government. She has a law degree as well as a bachelor’s in journalism and advertising.
Daniel Tarullo, who served as a Fed board member from 2009 to 2017, was also a lawyer. And in a speech at the Brookings Institution a few months after he stepped down, he admitted that he was far from an expert on monetary policy when President Barack Obama nominated him.
In April, Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (Ohio) said Republicans should be “ashamed” by their opposition to Cook.
“Twelve out of 12 [Republicans in committee] voted against Lisa Cook, saying she’s not qualified ― Truman scholar, Marshall scholar, I believe, too, Ph.D. from Berkeley, graduated from Spelman, teaches at Michigan State,” Brown said. “We see a habit, a consistent pattern of that. So we get no help from them to fill out the Federal Reserve. It’s been 109 years, and seven people on the Federal Reserve at one time, and not one African American woman ever. They should be ashamed.”
Biden has also nominated Philip Jefferson, who is also Black and is an economics professor at Davidson College. If he is confirmed, the Fed will have more than one Black person on the board of governors for the first time in its history. Democrats are also waiting to confirm Powell to another term as board chair.
Jefferson received unanimous support from the Banking Committee, while Powell had only one senator ― Warren ― in opposition.
Republicans ― along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) ― blocked one of Biden’s other Fed nominees, Sarah Bloom Raskin, over concerns that she advocated for the Fed to be more proactive in addressing the financial risks posed by climate change.