WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed UC Berkeley professor emeritus Janet Yellen on Monday as the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, elevating an advocate of fighting unemployment and a backer of the central bank’s efforts to spur the economy with low interest rates and huge bond purchases.
Yellen, 67, will replace Ben Bernanke, who is stepping down after serving as chairman for eight years.
Senators confirmed her 56-26, with numerous absences caused by airline flight delays forced by arctic temperatures around much of the country. All 45 voting Democrats were joined by 11 Republicans in supporting Yellen, while 26 Republicans voted “no.”
Vice chair of the Fed since 2010, Yellen begins her four-year term as leader of the century-old bank on Feb. 1. With the economy rebounding from the depths of the recession but only modestly so far, many economists expect her to focus on how to nurture growth without putting it into overdrive, which could risk fueling inflation.
Under Bernanke, the Fed has driven short-term interest rates down to near zero and flushed money into the economy with huge bond purchases, which it has just started to ease. Yellen, a strong Bernanke ally, has supported those policies and is expected to continue them until concrete signs emerge of sustained improvement of the economy and job market.
In a written statement, President Obama said Yellen’s approval means “the American people will have a fierce champion” who will protect them.
“I am confident that Janet will stand up for American workers, protect consumers, foster the stability of our financial system and help keep our economy growing for years to come,” Obama said.
Lobbyists for the banking and financial services sectors issued statements pledging to work with Yellen. Both industries have fought to water down restrictions imposed by Obama’s 2010 law overhauling how the nation’s financial system is regulated.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Yellen previously headed the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. She taught at the Walter A. Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley from 1980 to 2006.