US Republicans block vote on Biden's Fed candidates

Republican lawmakers boycotted the Senate Banking Committee and denied it the quorum it needed to vote. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Republicans in the United States Senate on Tuesday (Feb 15) boycotted a vote to confirm President Joe Biden's nominees to lead the Federal Reserve, creating a potential roadblock for the central bank as it looks to fight runaway inflation.

The Senate Banking Committee was scheduled to vote on the nomination of Fed Chair Jerome Powell for a second term, as well as Fed Governor Lael Brainard to serve as his vice-chairman, Ms Sarah Bloom Raskin for the post of top banking regulator and Dr Lisa Cook and Mr Philip Jefferson to join the central bank's Board of Governors.

But opposition lawmakers denied the committee the quorum it needed to proceed, and delayed confirmation by the full Senate.

Mr Powell, a Republican, is still leading the central bank but his term officially expired Feb 4, and there are three vacant seats on the board.

On the Senate floor, Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Mr Biden's choices "controversial," singling out Dr Cook, who he said "previously promoted partisan conspiracy theories".

If confirmed, Dr Cook would be the first black woman on the Fed board.

Senator Pat Toomey, the top Republican on the banking committee, accused Ms Raskin, a Democrat, of being evasive with lawmakers.

"All senators - not just Banking Republicans - deserve straightforward and honest answers from Ms Raskin before having to cast a vote on her nomination," he said in a statement.

As vice-chairman for supervision, Mr Toomey said Ms Raskin would have the Fed "allocate capital and choke off credit to disfavoured industries".

At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the boycott irresponsible, and said it would hamper the Fed's fight against the inflation wave that pushed consumer prices up by their fastest pace in four decades in January.

"Republicans are out there saying inflation is a problem. It's a huge issue, we agree. And then they're not even bothering to show up to even vote against these nominees to the Federal Reserve," Ms Psaki told reporters.

"What message is that sending to the American public?"

Senator Sherrod Brown, the committee's Democratic chairman, also condemned the move, saying: "Instead of showing up to work, to do their job, Republicans have walked out on the American people."

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