WASHINGTON - Janet Yellen already shattered a glass ceiling when she became the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve during the Obama Administration - and on Monday she shattered another when the Senate voted 84-15 to confirm her as the next Treasury secretary.
Yellen is now the first woman to hold the job in the department's 232-year history, joining the ranks of Alexander Hamilton and 76 other men. She is expected to play a key role in gaining congressional approval of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which is running into stiff opposition from Republicans who believe the price tag is too high.
Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted the former Federal Reserve chairwoman had bipartisan support.
Schumer said Yellen has a "breathtaking range of experience" and support for her nomination reflected "just how well suited she is to manage the economic challenges of our time ... particularly during this moment of economic crisis."
On the campaign trail, Biden promised a diverse administration — one that would "look like America." He also kept his promise to name a woman his running mate when he picked Kamala Harris.
On Wednesday, Senators confirmed Avril Haines as the director of national intelligence, the first woman to lead the agency in its 15-year existence. And on Friday, the Senate voted 93-2 to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to be the secretary of defense, the first Black man to hold that office.
Yellen’s nomination to lead the Treasury is yet another step towards filling Biden’s vision.
On Friday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously voted to advance Yellen’s nomination to a vote on the Senate floor. Now her fate is in the hands of a final vote from the full Senate.
Earlier in the week, she told the committee Americans faced a "longer, more painful recession" unless Washington took action swiftly on the next COVID-19 package.
She pledged support to an economic aid package that would provide a third round of stimulus checks, with an additional $1,400 coming to most Americans making less than $75,000 a year.
Yellen acknowledged such a measure would add to the country's rising debt but said the Biden Administration feels fighting the pandemic-recession took precedent.
"Right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big," she said. "In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who have been struggling for a very long time."
Republican Senators expressed policy disagreements with Yellen, such as raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. But they agreed it was important to allow Biden to assemble his economic team quickly.
This story was reported from Atlanta. The Associated Press contributed.