Fed’s Brainard among leading contenders for White House economic post

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Lael Brainard, vice chair of the US Federal Reserve, listens to a question during an interview in Washington, DC, US, on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. 

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Federal Reserve Vice Chair Lael Brainard is a top candidate to take the most important economic position in the White House.

The central bank official is considered one of the strongest contenders, among a host of others, to succeed Brian Deece as director of the National Economic Council, according to sources familiar with the matter. The Washington Post first reported the story, citing three sources with knowledge of the process.

Brainard, 61, was thought to be a top candidate for Treasury secretary when President Joe Biden was first taking office in 2021, but former Fed Chair Janet Yellen ultimately was selected for the post. Biden named Brainard vice chair at the Fed in 2022; she also was considered as a possible successor to Fed Chair Jerome Powell, whom Biden reappointed last year.

Deece has not set a date for his departure, but is expected to leave soon.

Brainard is one of multiple candidates being considered and interviews for the position are continuing, according to a White House spokesman familiar with the matter.

For her part, Brainard could garner support from progressives who are in favor of strong bank regulation and easier monetary policy. She also has helped lead the effort at the Fed to ask banks to submit plans to handle climate-related events, pushed for a central bank digital currency and was part of a policy switch that amended the central bank’s approach to employment to make it both full and inclusive.

Along with all those efforts, Brainard has spearheaded updates to the Community Reinvestment Act, legislation favored by Democrats that encourages bank lending to low-income Americans.

A Fed spokesman declined comment. Officials there are currently in their blackout period before the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 policy meeting.

The White House also did not comment.

Along with Brainard, other top contenders the Post identified include current Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo; Gene Sperling, an advisor to former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton; former Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell; deputy NEC Director Bharat Ramamurti; and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who reportedly is not interested in the job.

If chosen, Brainard would take over with the U.S. economy seemingly on the brink of recession, and as the Fed weighs when to halt aggressive interest rate hikes aimed at tackling runaway inflation.

The role would give her strong influence over a number of administration priorities, including housing, antitrust issues and energy.

Brainard’s ascent then would create a vacancy at the Fed, which is expected to halt its spate of rate increases early this year. The rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee meets next week and is almost universally expected to enact a quarter-point increase, matching the smallest move since the current policy tightening began in March 2022.

In her most recent speech, Brainard said inflation remains too high and the Fed is likely to keep rates elevated until there is more progress in bringing down prices.

“Even with the recent moderation, inflation remains high, and policy will need to be sufficiently restrictive for some time to make sure inflation returns to 2% on a sustained basis,” she said.

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