Who is Lael Brainard? What to know about Biden’s likely pick for Treasury Secretary

November 9, 2020, 11:02 PM UTC

President-elect Biden is starting to assemble his cabinet, and Democrats are angling to influence who he will choose for the positions.

One leading candidate for the high-profile Treasury Secretary slot is Lael Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.

A former under secretary for the Department of the Treasury during the early years of the Obama administration, Brainard also served as an economic adviser to President Clinton.

The Treasury pick is likely to be an early battle between moderates, progressives, and the GOP, Politico reports, given Biden’s likely desire to move quickly on economic recovery plans. Here’s what you should know about Brainard.

She’s a moderate pick—with a few fairly progressive leanings

The Fed governor is seen as a moderate or centrist choice for the Treasury position, according to Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank. “The choice of a Treasury secretary is a signaling device for whether the Biden presidency will look toward more moderate or centrist economic policies or progressive ones,” Luzzetti says.

Brainard’s rumored competitors for the position, according to Politico, include Atlanta Fed president and CEO Raphael Bostic; former Fed governor Sarah Bloom Raskin; TIAA-CREF CEO and former Fed vice chair Roger Ferguson; Ariel Investments co-CEO Mellody Hobson; and progressive choice Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Since she became a Fed governor in 2014, Brainard has “held mainstream views” and leaned doveish, meaning that she favors keeping rates low and creating economic stimulus to promote job growth, rather than worrying about inflation, Luzzetti says.

But Brainard has also voted in favor of increasing capital requirements for banks—a vote that aligns her with the Biden administration’s likely interest in regulating the finance industry.

Her record suggests that she, like Biden, believes in moderate economic policies with some level of support for the kind of regulation—and undoing of the GOP’s deregulation—that progressives are hoping for.

Still, Brainard as head of the Treasury would “sit well within the Biden administration, but be unlikely to go as far as some of the more progressive candidates would want,” Luzzetti says.

She favors economic stimulus in response to COVID-19

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, the Fed has supported additional fiscal stimulus to help the economy recover from the pandemic’s associated economic downturn. Like her colleagues, Brainard has backed those proposals.

“I would expect she would be very much supportive of rolling out a stimulus package early next year that is broader than what we’ve seen contemplated from the Republican side,” says Luzzetti. “I would view her as being very supportive of the key elements of the Democratic platform: support for unemployment benefits, state and local governments, small businesses.”

She’s an early frontrunner

Right now, Brainard is seen as the frontrunner for the post.

“She’s been at the Federal Reserve during the current crisis and worked at Obama’s Treasury department. She has signaled support for the left and the center without expressing solidarity with either. And she would make history as the first woman ever to lead the department,” reports Politico.

Her tenure in the Obama administration could be a focus of some tougher questioning during a confirmation process. Specifically, Luzzetti says, Brainard’s background in international trade—during a time when the U.S. did not take as “forceful action against China” as lawmakers now favor.

Still, the candidate is a popular choice—with the caveat that much could change in the weeks and months ahead. The incoming Biden administration itself has yet to publicly weigh in.

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