Lisa Cook, an economist at Michigan State University
Lisa Cook, an economist at Michigan State University, uncovered racial disparities in how a US government rescue fund was disbursed during the pandemic © Bloomberg

The US Senate has confirmed Lisa Cook to serve on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, making her the first black woman to hold the position in the central bank’s 109-year history.

All 50 Democrats in the upper chamber of Congress voted in favour of Cook, who is currently a professor of economics at Michigan State University, with vice-president Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote after Republicans voted unanimously against her appointment.

Cook, who formerly worked as a staff economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, will serve a two-year term expiring January 2024.

Her confirmation process suffered multiple setbacks, including Democrats having to push back the final vote late last month after coronavirus-related absences denied her sufficient support to proceed with the nomination.

Republicans have opposed her nomination throughout, accusing her of lacking relevant economic experience. Cook, who speaks six languages, has focused her research on the economic costs of discrimination. Her studies have ranged from how racially-motivated violence stymies innovation to output lost stemming from inequality.

Cook was nominated alongside Philip Jefferson, the dean of faculty at Davidson College who is expected to be confirmed with bipartisan support soon, and Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was forced to withdraw from consideration as the next vice-chair for supervision after her views on climate-related financial risks lost her critical support.

President Joe Biden has since tapped Michael Barr, a former Treasury official, to fill the position.

The Senate must also confirm Jay Powell for a second term as Fed chair. Lael Brainard was confirmed late last month to serve as vice-chair.

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