The US Senate has confirmed Jerome Powell to a second four-year term as head of the Federal Reserve, paving the way for the former investment banker to continue leading the central bank as it confronts the highest inflation in 40 years.
Powell, who was renominated by US President Joe Biden, drew bipartisan backing in the divided Senate, with a final tally of 80 senators in favour of his confirmation and only 19 opposed.
Most of the nays were Republicans, though a few Democrats, including Robert Menendez and Elizabeth Warren, joined them. Menendez said Powell had not done enough to promote diversity in the Fed's leadership, while Warren said he had fallen short on bank regulation.
Still, the final vote was an endorsement of Powell's handling of the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the short but historically deep 2020 recession that marked his first term. It's also a mandate for him to proceed with what may be the sharpest set of interest rate hikes since the early 1980s when Paul Volcker led the Fed.
The central bank also announced that next month it will start culling its $9 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and other assets accumulated to smooth markets and augment the impact of rate cuts made during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Davidson College economist Philip Jefferson to the seven-member Fed board by a wide margin, but on Tuesday a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris was required to confirm Michigan State University economist Lisa Cook, who becomes the first Black woman to sit on it.
Jefferson is the fourth Black man to be a member of the board, and two Black Fed governors have never before served simultaneously.
Fed Governor Lael Brainard was confirmed several weeks ago as the central bank's new vice chair, Powell's top lieutenant.
One key vacancy remains: the vice chair for supervision, open since the departure of Randal Quarles around the end of last year.
Biden's pick for that post, former Treasury official Michael Barr, will face questioning from the Senate Banking Committee on May 19, a first step in the confirmation process for the country's top banking regulator.Biden's initial pick for the job, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her name after opposition from Republicans and one Democrat denied her a path to confirmation.