WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Janet Yellen won overwhelming Senate confirmation as the first female U.S. Treasury secretary on Monday, setting her quickly to work with Congress on coronavirus relief, reviewing U.S. sanctions policy and strengthening financial regulation.
The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Yellen, with all opposition coming from Republicans, several of whom have expressed concerns about President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid proposal, tax and spending plans.
The Senate later on Monday evening was expected to receive articles of impeachment against former President Donald Trump, a move that has also stoked some partisan divisions.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Yellen had made history for a second time, seven years after she became the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve.
“At the Treasury Department, there are long hallways where portraits hang of all 77 Treasury Secretaries — all men, all the way back to Alexander Hamilton,” Schumer wrote on Twitter. “I’m thrilled to vote for Janet Yellen today and add the first portrait of a woman to that hallway.”
Yellen will play a key role in working with Congress on Biden’s coronavirus stimulus plans and on his pledges to invest $2 trillion in infrastructure, green energy projects, education and research to boost American competitiveness.
Treasury will oversee Biden’s plans to help finance these initiatives by raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21% and increase taxes on those making over $400,000 a year.
Republicans have expressed concerns over the price tag and increased debt in a return to fiscal conservatism after running up deficits during Trump’s term with the 2017 tax cuts and nearly $5 trillion in coronavirus spending.
Yellen told senators at her confirmation hearing last week that they needed to raise the minimum wage and “act big” on stimulus measures or risk a longer, more painful recession brought on by the pandemic.
Yellen also said during her confirmation hearing that she would conduct an immediate review of U.S. financial sanctions policy administered by Treasury to ensure that they were used “strategically and appropriately” after a major ramp-up of such measures under the Trump administration.
Yellen’s confirmation less than a week after Biden took office is quick by recent standards. Her Republican predecessor, Steven Mnuchin, was not confirmed until three weeks after Trump’s 2017 inauguration on a party-line vote.
The Treasury on Monday announced more members of Yellen’s team, bringing back some Obama administration veterans who served at the agency.
The Treasury named Natalie Wyeth Earnest as counselor to the secretary for strategic communications. Earnest served as assistant secretary for public affairs at Treasury under former Secretary Jack Lew and in various communications roles under former Secretary Tim Geithner.
Mark Mazur, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and a former Treasury assistant secretary for tax policy, was named as deputy assistant secretary for tax policy in Treasury’s Office of Legislative Affairs.
Treasury named Aruna Kalyanam, most recently House Ways and Means Committee deputy chief tax counsel, as deputy assistant secretary for tax and budget in the Office of Legislative Affairs.
(Reporting by David Lawder; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Ann Saphir and Eric Beech; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Sonya Hepinstall)
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