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Senate Confirms Fed Economist Waller to Board Seat -- Update

12/03/2020 | 12:53pm EST

By Nick Timiraos

The Senate confirmed one of President Trump's picks Thursday to a vacancy on the Federal Reserve's board of governors.

Christopher Waller, the research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, was confirmed on a 48-47 vote to a term that runs through January 2030. He has attended meetings of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee this year in his capacity at the St. Louis Fed. He headed the University of Notre Dame's economics department before joining the regional Fed bank in 2009.

Mr. Waller's party-line confirmation reflected increased partisan tensions over the Fed. Five of 12 Democrats had voted in July to advance Mr. Waller's nomination out of the Senate Banking Committee, but he received no backing from Democrats on Thursday. One Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, also opposed his confirmation.

Mr. Waller's confirmation was secured with fewer votes for any Fed governor since at least 1980. Party-line votes for Fed board positions hadn't previously occurred, reflecting the central bank's normally apolitical nature.

The confirmation also marked the first time the Senate had seated a governor in a lame-duck period that follows the November election before the president's term ends in January, according to Peter Conti-Brown, a Fed historian at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Trump administration had struggled to secure support for five earlier selections, three of which were formally submitted for Senate confirmation, to fill two vacancies. The nomination of Judy Shelton, an economic commentator who previously served as U.S. envoy to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, failed to advance during a procedural vote two weeks ago.

Mr. Trump announced his intention to nominate Mr. Waller and Ms. Shelton in July 2019, a period in which he was upset that the Fed wasn't moving faster to cut interest rates. The White House had discussed a possible appointment with St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, who in June 2019 had dissented from the Fed's decision to hold rates steady, preferring a cut.

Mr. Bullard recommended the White House consider for the job his research director, Mr. Waller, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Waller's nomination received relatively little attention because it was paired with the selection of Ms. Shelton. All Democrats and some Republicans voiced concerns about her heterodox policy views -- she has been a longtime advocate for returning to a gold standard. Some also expressed concern that she had abandoned her staunch support for tighter monetary policy to secure Mr. Trump's nomination.

Write to Nick Timiraos at nick.timiraos@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

12-03-20 1253ET

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