Senate fails to advance nomination of MSU's Cook amid Democrat absences due to COVID

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Senate failed to advance the nomination of Michigan State University economist Lisa Cook on Tuesday amid absences of two Democratic senators who announced they had COVID-19. 

The vote to advance Cook's nomination to the Federal Reserve fell short in a 47-51 vote. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York is expected to reschedule the vote for another day when he has full attendance. 

Dr. Lisa DeNell Cook, of Michigan, nominated to be a Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, listens  during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on February 3, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, both Democrats, missed votes Tuesday after testing positive for COVID. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was expected to break a potential tie vote on Cook's nomination, also said Tuesday she tested positive. 

If confirmed, Cook would be the first Black woman on the Fed's seven-member Board of Governors. The central bank's mandate is to promote stable prices and maximum employment.

Cook's nomination by President Joe Biden in January has received united opposition from Republicans. 

When Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, requested consent Tuesday to postpone the vote to end debate on Cook's nomination, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, objected. 

Toomey, the top Republican on the the banking panel, has urged his GOP colleagues to reject Cook, voicing concerns that she would politicize the nonpartisan Board of Governors and that she doesn't have enough expertise in monetary policy.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, has said GOP senators are working to obstruct Cook "purely for political purposes." 

"Her qualifications are irrefutable," Schumer said Monday. "In short, Ms. Cook absolutely belongs on the Fed, and I look forward to the Senate confirming her soon."

In response to GOP scrutiny at her nomination hearing, Cook pointed to her publications related to banking reform and recognizing systemic risk, as well as her doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

Cook described her economic specialty as managing financial crises, noting her post with the Financial Crisis Think Tank at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and that she was in charge of managing the eurozone crisis during her time on the White House Council of Economic Advisors. 

Cook in her hearing testimony also said she'd follow the example of economist and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, "whom I greatly admire for his unwavering dedication to a nonpolitical and independent Federal Reserve." 

Cook has taught at MSU since 2005, where she is a professor of economics and international relations. She previously served as a senior Treasury Department adviser and on President Barack Obama's White House Council of Economic Advisors from 2011-12.

“It is disappointing that Senate Republicans are exploiting the absences of our colleagues to stop a qualified Black woman — the first African American woman ever nominated to serve on the Federal Reserve Board,” Brown said. “Once again, they’ve decided that scoring political points is more important than serving the public and bringing down prices for American families.

The Senate will reconsider Dr. Cook’s nomination expeditiously, and I look forward to the Senate confirming this exceptionally talented and qualified nominee to the Board of Governors.”

The Senate voted along party lines 50-49 last month to discharge Cook's nomination from the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs where it was stuck after a tied vote. The panel, like the full Senate, is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, who voted 12-12 on her nomination March 16, causing it to fail.  

Last month's floor vote was required under Senate rules to discharge the committee of further consideration of Cook's nomination, so it could be considered by the full chamber.