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Who Are The Candidates To Become Biden's Treasury Secretary?


President-elect Joe Biden will take office with millions of Americans out of work and the coronavirus pandemic weighing heavily on the U.S. economy. That makes his choice of economic advisers particularly important. Biden said today he hopes to name some Cabinet picks by Thanksgiving, and his choice of Treasury secretary will be closely watched.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. And, Scott, one name that's been floated for the Treasury job, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. What are the calculations behind that choice?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Audie, Warren is a lightning rod in every sense. She is an electrifying spark of excitement for those on the left, and she's a frightening clap of thunder for some of those in the financial industry. In fact, it's Warren's ability to scare the financial industry that is exactly what progressives like about her. She was a tough critic of Wall Street and a champion for consumers even before the financial crisis made her a national figure. And, you know, Warren insists she doesn't want to upend the market economy; she just wants to save it with some better guardrails. Here she is speaking to CNBC.


ELIZABETH WARREN: I am a capitalist. Come on. I believe in markets. What I don't believe in is theft. What I don't believe in is cheating.

HORSLEY: So progressives would very much like to see someone like Warren at the top of the Treasury Department. Warren herself reportedly would like the job. But there are a couple of big speed bumps between her and the nomination. If Biden were to pick her, it would mean giving up a Democratic seat in the Senate that would be filled, at least at first, by the Republican governor of Massachusetts. What's more, unless Democrats manage to win both those Senate runoffs in Georgia in a couple of months, Republicans are going to have control of the Senate next year. And confirming Warren could be a pretty tough sell.

CORNISH: Given all those obstacles, can you tell us some of the other names that might be under consideration, say, for Treasury secretary in a Biden administration?

HORSLEY: Yeah. The former Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, is one name you hear mentioned. Another is a former Fed official, Sarah Bloom Raskin. Perhaps the odds-on favorite is Lael Brainard. She's a veteran of both the Obama and Clinton administrations who's currently on the board of governors at the Federal Reserve. Brainard has a lot of international experience, which could be helpful in dealing with the global fallout from the pandemic. She's not as polarizing as Warren, but she has a reasonably strong record on financial regulation. She also has a good working relationship with the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, who's going to continue to have an important role in economic policy. Aides say Biden wants to have the most diverse Cabinet in history. We've never had a woman as Treasury secretary, so Brainard, Raskin, Yellen or Warren would all be a historic pick.

CORNISH: What about the rest of the team? I know there are a lot of other key positions. What do we know about how Biden will approach this?

HORSLEY: Yeah, there are a number of Cabinet posts that have a hand in economic policy, including the labor secretary, the commerce secretary, the U.S. trade representative. I think in each of those jobs, you're going to see people who come in with a very different agenda than their predecessors in the Trump administration. Some of the old Obama rules that were reversed by President Trump could be reinstated. There's going to be a new boss at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, presumably. So that watchdog agency will have more teeth in a Biden administration.

And then, of course, there's also the economic team within the White House itself - the Council of Economic Advisers, the National Economic Council. A lot of the people who've been mentioned for those posts are veterans of the Obama-Biden administration. So they know what it's like to come into office in the midst of an economic crisis. You know, they had to cope with the Great Recession a dozen years ago. Now they're going to have to cope with an economy that is slowly coming back from double-digit unemployment and what looks to be a very tough winter for the pandemic.

CORNISH: That's Scott Horsley, NPR's chief economic correspondent.

Thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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