President-Elect Joe Biden rolled out his picks for the top economic spots in his administration, delivering a set of firsts for many of the women who he selected to shape economic policy over the next four years.
Among the six positions announced Monday were four female economists, three of them taking on roles that would make them firsts in terms of gender or race. The selections, Biden said in a statement Monday, are reflective of his goal to pick a team that is as diverse as the country.
“This team is comprised of respected and tested groundbreaking public servants who will help the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 and address the structural inequities in our economy,” Biden said. “…This team looks like America and brings seriousness of purpose, the highest degree of competency, and unwavering belief in the promise of America. They will be ready on day one to get to work for all Americans.”
In announcing the picks, Biden confirmed the news that broke last week that Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, will be his nominee for Treasury secretary, making her the first woman to potentially take up the role.
For director of the Office of Management and Budget, Biden nominated the Center for American Progress’ Neera Tanden, who, if confirmed, would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to hold the position. Labor economist Cecilia Rouse has been tapped to chair the three-person Council of Economic Advisers, making her the first Black person to vie for the role. Economist Heather Boushey has also been appointed to sit on the council, along with Jared Bernstein, both of whom advised Biden throughout the campaign. Wally Adeyemo, a former deputy director of the National Economic Council, former deputy National Security Advisor and the first chief of staff of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was also nominated to be deputy secretary of the Treasury, making him the first Black person in that position.
Four of the positions, with the exception of Boushey and Bernstein, will need to be confirmed by the Senate.
The most significant among them is the role of Treasury secretary, the principal economic advisory role to the president. Yellen brings with her a lengthy resume to the job: Other than serving as former chair of the Fed, she was also former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under former President Bill Clinton. She would be the first person in history to hold all three of the top economic jobs if she clinches the Treasury position.
Yellen is widely expected to sail through nomination regardless of which party holds the Senate following a Georgia runoff election that is expected to deliver the body to Republicans. She has previously been confirmed by the Senate four times and is well-regarded by conservative and progressive Democrats.
For the Office of Management and Budget, the nomination of Tanden would put the first Indian American in that role. Tanden is the current president and CEO at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank focused on addressing inequality. Her work has centered on working families, drawing from her experience relying on welfare, food stamps and Section 8 housing as a child.
“I remember being in the lunch line, and I was the only kid using the voucher back then for food stamps or reduced lunch,” Tanden told Politico in 2016. “I paid 10 cents; everyone was paying like $1.50. And I remember being at the Purity Supreme, which is our supermarket, and my mom was using the food stamps, and everyone else was paying with cash. And I asked her like, ‘Why do we have to use the funny money?’”
Her experiences helped shape her outlook as she went on to serve as a senior adviser for health reform during former President Barack Obama’s administration, where she worked on the Affordable Care Act, and on multiple advisory positions, including as a decades-long adviser to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Tanden’s confirmation, however, is considered to be one of the more difficult to pass the Senate. She has clashed with Republicans as a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and progressive Democrats in the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, some of whom maintain she played a role in ensuring Clinton and not Sanders got the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
On Twitter, some Republicans came out against the nomination. Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s spokesman, Drew Brandewie, said Tanden’s prior comments on Republican Senators — most recently condemning them in a seething statement regarding the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — made it likely she stood “zero chance of being confirmed.”
Labor economist Rouse is looking at a smoother road to confirmation. She has already served on the Council of Economic Advisers under Obama, a role that primes her to take up the position of chair under Biden, as well as as a member of the National Economic Council under Bill Clinton. Currently, she serves as dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. Her expertise is focused on labor, education and equality.
Austan Goolsbee, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers when Rouse served as a member, said on Twitter that she brings a “lifetime of expertise on issues of the workforce — pay, training, contingent work and more.”
Boushey, the president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a liberal think tank, will bring a similar focus on inequality. Her book, “Unbound: How Economic Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do About It,” outlines the stifling impact of structural inequality on economic development. She has also focused on issues directly impacting women, including the gender pay gap and the unequal pressures put on working mothers through her book, “Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict.”
“My life’s work has been centered on ensuring our families and work are properly valued within our economy,” Boushey said on Twitter Monday. “I’m excited to bring that perspective as a CEA member. We have an opportunity to rethink how we invest in people, and we need to seize it as we rebuild our economy.”
The announcement of the economic team gives an indication of how Biden plans to tackle the economic recovery in the first days of his administration, which will inherit record high unemployment and unequal economic disparities that are hurting women and people of color the most.
In a statement, vice president-elect Kamala Harris said that the Biden’s administration’s top focus upon entering the White House will be getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and opening up the economy “responsibly.”
She said the team selected will be tasked with just that.
“They share a fundamental commitment to ending this economic crisis and putting people back to work, while rebuilding our economy in a way that lifts up all Americans,” Harris said.