By Nick Timiraos 

The Senate confirmed one of President Trump's picks Thursday to a vacancy on the Federal Reserve's board of governors in a vote that reflected increased partisan tensions over issues related to the looming change in presidential administrations.

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.

Analysts said the largely party-line confirmation vote may have had less to do with specific objections to Mr. Waller's qualifications, but showed Democrats' broader frustrations with how the Trump administration has managed financial-policy and personnel issues during the lame-duck period. For example, the Treasury Department last month declined to renew emergency Fed lending facilities that will expire on Dec. 31.

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.

The confirmation 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.

"Much has changed since the summer committee vote. Most important, Joe Biden has clearly defeated Donald Trump," said Carl Tobias, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Richmond's School of Law.

Democrats have criticized recent Trump administration moves, such as declining to renew Fed lending facilities, as steps that could undermine the incoming Biden administration, making Democrats less amenable to cooperate on lame-duck confirmations for positions that will last a decade, such as Mr. Waller's, said Mr. Tobias.

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 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.

"Chris has served superbly as the St. Louis Fed's director of research," Mr. Bullard said in a statement Thursday. "He exemplifies the bank's longstanding tradition of thought-leadership in monetary policy and macroeconomic research."

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.

Republicans could try to confirm Ms. Shelton early in the next term of Congress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), who is opposed to Ms. Shelton's nomination, is retiring and will be replaced in January by Republican Sen.-elect Bill Hagerty. That could give Republicans as many as 50 votes -- subject to the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 -- to support Ms. Shelton with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in her favor.

There would be a narrow window for that to happen. It would require the White House to submit the nomination anew and the Senate to vote before Mr. Trump leaves office Jan. 20.

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

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 03, 2020 17:15 ET (22:15 GMT)

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