Janet Yellen's nomination as first female Treasury secretary clears key Senate hurdle

Key Points
  • The Senate Finance Committee on Friday unanimously approved Janet Yellen’s nomination as Treasury secretary.
  • If confirmed, Yellen would become the first female to hold the position, after accomplishing the same feat as chair of the Federal Reserve during the Obama administration.
  • A vote before the full Senate is expected later Friday.
Former Federal Reserve Chair, Janet L. Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden pick to be Treasury Secretary, speaks at the Queen in Wilmington, DE on December 1, 2020.
Demetrius Freeman | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Janet Yellen's history-making move to head the Treasury Department took a key step forward Friday morning after she easily cleared an important Senate vote.

Along with the raft of experience she brings with her, the appointment would make Yellen the first woman ever to hold the position. She previously was the first female to lead the Federal Reserve.

The Senate Finance Committee on Friday approved of President Joe Biden's move to name Yellen as Treasury secretary, sending the nomination through by a 26-0 vote vote.

"We are proud that we have now the first woman to be Treasury secretary of the United States," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. "I really hope that she can lead a new day at Treasury to focus on Main Street issues of the workforce, workforce training, and the important aspects of getting the American economy and getting people back to work."

Yellen still faces confirmation by the entire Senate. Indications were that Yellen's name would move to the Senate floor before the close of business Friday, but that now apparently will not happen until next week.

The committee vote came with little debate or disagreement, similar to her confirmation hearing earlier in the week. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Yellen is "in effect an NBA All-Star when it comes to clearing the Senate nomination process."

Indeed, Yellen also navigated the process when she was twice named to the Fed's Board of Governors. Yellen also was the first female to head the Council of Economic Advisers under former President Bill Clinton.

Emphasis in bipartisanship

Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the fast-tracking of Yellen's appointment was part of a Republican effort to tame some of the partisan rancor that permeated Washington during former President Donald Trump's tenure.

"Unfortunately, I can't say that like treatment was afforded to all nominees of the prior administration," Grassley said. He added that the treatment of Yellen's nomination "signals an interest by me and I know all of my Republican colleagues in working cooperatively and in a bipartisan way. … We're not interested in cancerous cultural wars that serve only to divide the nation."

Should she gain confirmation, it would put her in a critical position to execute the Democratic administration's economic agenda.

The new president already finds himself locked in a congressional tussle over his proposed $1.9 trillion spending plan. Approval could be several weeks away, and Biden is unlikely to get the full price tag.

Part of Yellen's job will be to shepherd the proposal through Congress, where she is likely to face substantial resistance.

"I have very strong disagreements with Dr. Yellen on a number of her positions, particularly in the tax policy areas," said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. "But she has committed to us that she will work with us on these issues and the concerns that we have, and I think the strong vote on our side to support her today is an indication that we want to engage."