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'Help Is On The Way,' Biden Says As He Formally Unveils Economic Team

Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for treasury secretary, gives remarks Tuesday in Wilmington, Del., as Biden and other members of his economic team look on. If confirmed, Yellen would be the first female treasury secretary.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for treasury secretary, gives remarks Tuesday in Wilmington, Del., as Biden and other members of his economic team look on. If confirmed, Yellen would be the first female treasury secretary.

Updated at 3:37 p.m. ET

With confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spiking and the nation's job market struggling to pull itself out of the abyss caused by the pandemic, President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday formally announced the advisers who he hopes can guide the United States back to solid economic footing.

The six-person economic team Biden has tapped — which was revealed on Monday — is a who's who list of veterans from previous Democratic administrations and, if confirmed, includes a number of historic firsts.

Speaking from Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday, the president-elect referred to the group as "first rate" and well-equipped to meet the dual challenges the pandemic and the sputtering economy present.

"A team that's tested and experienced, it includes groundbreaking Americans who come from different backgrounds but who share my core vision for economic relief here in the United States of America," Biden said.

He pointed to what has been a two-track economic recovery amid the pandemic, in which working people continue to struggle while the wealthy get further ahead.

Biden said Congress should come together to pass a "robust" aid package, but he also repeated his call for "immediate relief" in the lame duck period before he takes office. The rollout of Biden's team comes as lawmakers have offered new aid proposals.

Biden also laid out a laundry list of economic goals that must be addressed early on in his administration. These include keeping businesses and schools open safely, delivering economic relief for those who have lost jobs or had hours cut, stabilizing the nation's health care system and addressing racial inequities the virus has laid bare.

"Our message to everyone struggling right now is this: Help is on the way," Biden said.

"A convergence of tragedies"

The incoming administration's economic team is set to be led by Janet Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chair whom Biden nominated for treasury secretary. Yellen would become the first woman to lead the department in its 231 years of existence.

Yellen also highlighted many of the economic challenges facing the Biden administration and vowed to champion policy changes to deal with issues such as gender discrimination and small business lending that blocks wealth-building opportunities for communities of color.

"It's a convergence of tragedies that is not only economically unstable, but one that betrays our commitment to giving every American an equal chance to get ahead," Yellen said.

OMB pick may face rocky confirmation

No other name on Biden's proposed economic team has created more blowback from Republicans than Neera Tanden.

Tanden's role, as Biden's director of the Office of Management and Budget, is one of several announced on Tuesday that would need Senate confirmation.

Currently the CEO of the left-leaning public policy organization the Center for American Progress, Tanden is a veteran of both the Clinton and Obama administrations and would be the first woman of color to lead OMB.

On Tuesday Tanden spoke of her mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from India, divorced and was left to raise two young children. She said her family relied on Section 8 housing vouchers to pay rent and food stamps for a time to get by while growing up in suburban Boston.

"I'm here today because of social programs, because of budgetary choices, because of a government that saw my mother's dignity and gave her a chance," Tanden said. "Now it is my profound honor to help shape those budgets and programs to keep lifting Americans up, to bring families back from the brink."

But over the weekend, as rumblings of her nomination began to surface, Republicans cast doubt on her chances of getting confirmed.

"Neera Tanden, who has an endless stream of disparaging comments about the Republican Senators' whose votes she'll need, stands zero chance of being confirmed," tweeted Drew Brandewie, a spokesman for Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa struck a much more conciliatory tone on Capitol Hill on Monday when asked about Yellen as treasury secretary.

"I believe she'd get a favorable view," Grassley said, adding he didn't want to make a judgment on her nomination until the confirmation hearings have transpired.

Rounding out Biden's economic team

Cecilia Rouse is Biden's selection to be chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Should she be confirmed, Rouse, who currently serves as dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, would also be a trailblazer.

She would be just the fourth woman and the first Black woman to lead the CEA since it was established nearly 75 years ago.

Biden economic appointees include Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey as members of the CEA. Both served as economic advisers to Biden during his time as vice president.

Biden also named Wally Adeyemo, who, if confirmed, would become the Treasury Department's first Black deputy secretary.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.