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Joe Biden confirms historic nomination of Janet Yellen as US treasury secretary

Janet Yellen will be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department. Source: AAP

President-elect Joe Biden named several women to his top economic policy team on Monday, including former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as treasury secretary nominee, setting the stage for diversity and a focus on recovery from the pandemic.

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday formally picked ex-Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen to lead the treasury, one of a slate of economic officials who would break racial and gender barriers in the US government.

The announcement of Mr Biden's economic team comes after running mate Kamala Harris made history as the first woman and first person of both African American and South Asian descent to win the vice presidency.

If they win Senate approval, Ms Yellen would be the first female treasury secretary, and be joined in the executive branch by the first African Americans to serve as her deputy and as head of the White House economic council, as well as the first South Asian in a key budget role.

"We face great challenges as a country right now. To recover, we must restore the American dream - a society where each person can rise to their potential and dream even bigger for their children," Ms Yellen tweeted following the announcement.

"As Treasury Secretary, I will work every day towards rebuilding that dream for all."

Job number one for the 74-year-old, who previously made history as the first female Federal Reserve chief from 2014 to 2018, will be helping the US economy recover from the sharp downturn in growth and mass layoffs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unless lawmakers are able to overcome their differences in the closing weeks of the year, she will likely be tasked with convincing Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass another spending bill to aid the recovery amid a months-long deadlock on new aid.

"As we get to work to control the virus, this is the team that will deliver immediate economic relief for the American people during this economic crisis and help us build our economy back better than ever," Mr Biden said in a statement announcing his appointments.

“This team looks like America and brings seriousness of purpose, the highest degree of competency, and unwavering belief in the promise of America. They will be ready on day one to get to work for all Americans,” he said.

The task ahead

Ms Yellen's nomination was first reported last week, and Mr Biden and Vice president-elect Kamala Harris will formally unveil the nominees on Tuesday.

Many of those tapped to serve on Mr Biden's economic team include former officials of Barack Obama administration, under whom Mr Biden served as vice president.

Nigerian-born Wally Adeyemo, a former deputy national security advisor and current president of the Obama Foundation non-profit, will serve as deputy Treasury secretary. He would be the first African American in that role.

Neera Tanden, president of liberal think tank Center for American Progress, was tapped as head the Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed, she would be its first South Asian leader.

Also named was Dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Cecilia Rouse as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), the first African American in that post.

Jared Bernstein, who previously advised Mr Biden when he was vice president under Mr Obama, will join the CEA, as will Washington Center for Equitable Growth President Heather Boushey.

Ms Yellen would take over as Treasury secretary from Steven Mnuchin, who worked with Congress on passing the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March that expanded unemployment payments and offered loans and grants to small businesses.

Those measures were seen as key in keeping the US from an even worse economic slowdown, but they expired over the summer and, despite talks with Mnuchin, Democrats controling the House and Republicans leading the Senate can't agree on how much to spend, or what to spend it on.

A study from progressive think tank The Century Foundation released last week said 12 million Americans will be receiving aid from government programs that will expire at the end of the year, and the policy deadlock raises fears the country's tentative economic recovery could be reversed.

While Democrats will retain control of the House when the new Congress is inaugurated in January, control of the Senate, which must approve Biden's nominees, will be decided by two elections in Georgia set for that month.

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