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The Fed: Republicans take advantage of absences to block Fed nominee Lisa Cook

Senate Republicans on Tuesday took advantage of the absence of some Democrats due to COVID-19 to block the nomination of the first Black woman to the Federal Reserve.

President Joe Binden has nominated Lisa Cook, an economist from Michigan State University, to the Fed’s seven-member board of governors.

The vote Tuesday on ending debate on her nomination failed, 47 to 51.

Democrats did not have enough votes to stop debate on Cook’s nomination because Sens. Christopher Murphy of Delaware and Ron Wyden of Oregon have tested positive for COVID-19 and are absent.

Vice President Kamala Harris also has COVID-19 and would not be able to break a likely tie in the Senate if all lawmakers on both sides were available to vote.

In a parliamentary maneuver, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer voted no, allowing him to ask for another vote on the Cook nomination once the absent Democrats return.

Senate Republicans refused an effort by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to delay the Cook vote.

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, said he opposed Cook because he said she would “politicize” the Fed.

Republicans seem to be still smarting over the defeat of two of President Donald Trump’s nominees to the Fed — maverick economist Judy Shelton and Republican political operative Steven Moore. Toomey said that Shelton’s nomination had only failed because of an ailing GOP lawmaker.

Cook’s nomination has had trouble from the start. She couldn’t get approved by the Senate Banking Committee because she had no support from Republican members. That meant the full Senate had to vote to allow her nomination to advance. She passed that hurdle on a close vote of 50 to 49.

Earlier Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Lael Brainard, a sitting Fed governor, to be Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s top deputy at the central bank.

Powell has been nominated by Biden to a second four-year term, and his final approval vote on the Senate floor is expected soon.

The Senate is also set to hold a final vote on the nomination of Philip Jefferson, an economist from Davidson College, to the Fed board. This would mean that Biden would have selected four of the seven seats on the board of governors.

While economists generally think the Fed is likely to stick to its plans to raise its benchmark rate up above 2% from the current range of 0.25%-0.5% by the end of the year, some believe Cook and Jefferson might support a pause in the rate hikes sometime in the fall to see how the economy is faring with less-easy monetary policy.

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