What the withdrawal of President Biden’s Federal Reserve nominee means for his agenda

Editor's note: Due to a transcription error, Partnership for Public Service President and CEO Max Stier's name was misspelled when this piece was first published. It has since been corrected.

Sarah Bloom Raskin has withdrawn her name from consideration to the Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday after a stalemate in the Senate over her nomination. Fed policymakers are expected to raise interest rates this week, for the first time in three years. Lisa Desjardins has more on the roadblocks the Biden administration is up against.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, Sarah Bloom Raskin has withdrawn her nomination to the Federal Reserve Board after a stalemate in the Senate. It comes as Federal Reserve policymakers are expected to raise interest rates tomorrow for the first time in three years in an effort to combat inflation.

    Lisa Desjardins has more on the roadblocks the Biden administration is up against.

  • Sarah Bloom Raskin, Former Federal Reserve Nominee:

    Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The fight over Sarah Bloom Raskin's nomination said much about the Senate. The opposition was to her, but Raskin was part of a group with four other Federal Reserve nominations. All of them were blocked.

    Raskin, wife of Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, has a hefty resume. She's been on the Fed Board before. Opposition started with Republicans like Senator Pat Toomey. They raised ethics concerns from when she was in the private sector and charged she is too activist, especially on climate.

  • Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa):

    I think you have used the word existential and that, for those reasons, it is necessary and appropriate for financial regulators, including the Fed, to allocate capital away from those companies that are contributing the most to the carbon in the atmosphere.

    Isn't that true?

  • Sarah Bloom Raskin, Former Federal Reserve Nominee:

    Senator Toomey, it is inappropriate for the Fed to make credit decisions and allocations based on choosing winners and losers.

    Banks choose their borrowers.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    To derail her, the GOP used an extreme tactic.

  • Man:

    Our constituents sent us here to vote. Nobody is on the other side.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The GOP blocked Raskin and all the Fed nominations by not showing up to a committee vote. In the 50/50 Senate, one Republican at least must be present, even if they vote no. Those absent senators are part of omnipresent obstacles for nominees.

    Max Stier, President and CEO, Partnership for Public Service: What's different today is that the degree of backlog is extraordinary, and the Senate challenges we face as a country so enormous, that the consequences are very, very large.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Max Stier heads the partnership for public service, whose data show unfilled seats across government piling up, nearly 300 empty positions the Senate must confirm.

  • Max Stier:

    It's a little bit like having a substitute teacher. They're not going to take on the difficult issues, and they're not going to get the respect from either their classroom or their peer teachers necessary to actually be an effective educator over time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In nomination fights, both the procedure and the politics have gotten tougher. Republicans last year boycotted a small business nominee who would have been the nation's highest-ranking Muslim, and some hearings have become surprisingly pointed.

  • Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX):

    Do you care about the innocent people who are murdered?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Texas Senator Ted Cruz repeatedly accused judicial nominee Nina Morrison of wanting to release violent criminals. Morrison works for The Innocence Project to free the falsely convicted.

  • Nina Morrison, The Innocence Project:

    Senator Cruz, I have worked for 20 years on cases involving some of the most horrific crimes imaginable, murders and rapes. Some of my own clients were murder victims' family members. They lost their loved ones and were wrongly convicted of killing them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Stier is concerned about the backlog.

  • Max Stier:

    You can have many, many people who, in an ordinary world, would actually garner significant majorities of support, and they're not going anywhere. We have literally hundreds of folks that are in confirmation purgatory.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This nominee purgatory has left the nation without a permanent EPA administrator or confirmed ambassadors to Ukraine or Afghanistan. All of it, Stier says, matters.

  • Max Stier:

    When you do not have leaders in place, when you have acting officials, they do not take on those long-term questions. They do not take on the difficult issues. And they are also not invested in by those around them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, the withdrawal of Sarah Bloom Raskin, what does this mean for the other four Fed nominees?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, speaking with sources on the Hill, and, also, we know from announcements by the committee that they will move forward with the other four nominees as a bloc.

    They can do it at any time, Judy, under Senate procedure. They haven't set a date yet, this week, next week, I think it will be soon. There is a question about — and one of the nominees, Lisa Cook, is someone who has received criticism from Republicans, which Democrats say is unfair, and really inappropriate.

    We have to watch and see if Republicans again try and block her using this same technique. It's not clear.

    Meanwhile, the White House is fighting back today, at least in its words. This is what we heard from President Biden in the statement he wrote about the withdrawal of Lisa (sic) Bloom Raskin.

    "Senate Republicans are focused on amplifying these false claims and protecting special interests, more focused on that than taking important steps toward addressing inflation and lowering costs for the American people. "

    Now, Republicans, they know these are substantive issues. It's a major debate. But we know for sure it has become harder to pass nominees in the U.S. Senate. Now, Democrats did lose one of their own, Joe Manchin, as you reported early, so it wasn't — earlier — it wasn't just Republicans.

    But this is a boiling-up issue that is affecting how government operates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, you touched on this in your report, but why have these fights over nominations become so protracted?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, I spend a lot of time thinking about this.

    I think there's two reasons. The one that is more tangible, these nominees have become a source of political capital in some sense. It's politicization, because some of these members are speaking to their base about opposing these nominees.

    Senator Ted Cruz, for example, someone on the Hill said it's performative of him, for example, when he goes after a nominee in the hearing, rather than actually substantive. That's the tangible.

    But, intangibly, Judy, I think there is also a search — sort of a philosophical question for Republicans at this moment. They're divided. What is their agenda? What are they for? It's much easier to be against something or someone. And that takes the form of nominees and blocking them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's a lesson we have seen again and again.

    Lisa Desjardins, thanks very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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