Biden reportedly chooses ex-Fed chair Janet Yellen to lead treasury, as other cabinet picks announced

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has chosen former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen to serve as treasury secretary, a pivotal role in which she would help shape and direct his economic policies at a perilous time, according to a person familiar with the transition plans.

As the first woman to lead the Treasury Department, Yellen would face an economy shaken by the pandemic

Janet Yellen served as U.S. Federal Reserve chair from 2014 to 2018 and later became an adviser to Joe Biden's presidential campaign. The president-elect has reportedly chosen Yellen to lead the Treasury Department. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has chosen former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen to serve as treasury secretary, a pivotal role in which she would help shape and direct his economic policies at a perilous time, according to a person familiar with the transition plans.

Yellen, who is widely admired in the financial world, would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department in a line stretching back to Alexander Hamilton in 1789. Her nomination was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Biden's plans.

As treasury secretary, Yellen would face a shaky U.S. economy, weakened by the pandemic recession and now in the grip of a surging pandemic that is intensifying pressure on businesses and individuals.

Concern is rising that the economy could slide into a "double-dip" recession this winter as states and cities reimpose restrictions on businesses and consumers stay at home to avoid contracting the disease.

Yellen's broad, varied career

A path-breaking figure in the male-dominated economics field, Yellen, 74, was also the first woman to serve as Fed chair, from 2014 to 2018. A Democrat, she had served only the one four-year term when President Donald Trump replaced her with Jerome Powell, a Republican.

That move broke a four-decade tradition of presidents allowing Fed chairs to serve at least two terms even if they had first been nominated by a president of the opposing party.

Yellen later became an adviser to Biden's presidential campaign in an unusual departure for a former Fed leader that thrust her into the political arena.

The treasury post would add another new chapter to Yellen's broad and varied career in financial policymaking.

As secretary, she would represent the administration in global financial affairs and lead a sprawling department whose responsibilities range from the government's finances and tax collections to global currency markets, bank regulation and the printing of money.

She would also be a key adviser to Biden and a public spokesperson for his economic agenda.

Six cabinet picks announced

Meanwhile, Biden has moved to fill out his national security team with a raft of appointments to top positions that signal his intent to repudiate the Trump administration's "America First" doctrine.

The six picks announced on Monday, almost all alumni of the Obama administration, represent a fundamental shift away from Trump's policies and personnel selections.

They also mark a return to a more traditional approach to America's relations with the rest of the world and reflect Biden's campaign promises to have his Cabinet reflect the diversity of the American population.

In choosing foreign policy veterans, Biden is seeking to upend Trump's war on the so-called "deep state" that saw an exodus of career officials from government. 

Biden plans to nominate Antony Blinken as his secretary of state, longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Avril Haines as director of national intelligence and Alejandro Mayorkas as the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Those four nominees will all need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Haines, 51, would be the first woman to lead the U.S. intelligence community if confirmed. She is a former deputy national security advisor and former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

John Kerry, who was secretary of state under former president Barack Obama, will return to lead the incoming administration's effort to combat climate change.

Biden has expressed support for re-engaging with allies on the issue, after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, a move that became official earlier this month.

Kerry does not require Senate confirmation, nor does Jake Sullivan, another Obama administration veteran tapped by Biden to serve as national security adviser. Under Trump, the role has been a revolving door, with four men having served.

Antony Blinken, left, and John Kerry, right, are shown in New York City on Sept. 29, 2015. Biden plans to nominated Blinken as his secretary of state, while Kerry will lead the new administration's approach to climate change. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)

Biden aims to sidestep possible confirmation issues 

Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration's bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which Trump questioned longtime alliances.

In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America's top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.

Rice would have faced significant Republican opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Coons's departure from the Senate would have come as other Democratic senators are being considered for administrative posts and the party is hoping to win back the Senate. Control hangs on the result of two runoff elections in Georgia in January.

For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.

Avril Haines, former deputy national security advisor and former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, testifies before the House's foreign affairs committee on Jan. 14 in Washington, D.C. She could become the first woman to lead the national intelligence community. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Biden's secretary of state would inherit what analysts have said is a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump's two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration's attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.

Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30 per cent in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks.

Many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.

Biden pledges diverse government

Biden is likely to name his cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific area, such as the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once.

The choices on Monday suggest Biden intends to make good on campaign promises to have his cabinet reflect the diversity of the American population with Thomas-Greenfield, a Black woman, at the helm of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and Mayorkas, a Cuban-American lawyer who will be the first Latino to lead Homeland Security.

They "are experienced, crisis-tested leaders who are ready to hit the ground running on day one," the transition team said in a statement.

"These officials will start working immediately to rebuild our institutions, renew and reimagine American leadership to keep Americans safe at home and abroad, and address the defining challenges of our time — from infectious disease, to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyberthreats, and climate change."

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, right, is seen in 2012 while serving as ambassador to Liberia, alongside then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Thomas-Greenfield is the Biden administration's choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. (Larry Downing/AFP/Getty Images)

Thomas-Greenfield, 68, is a career diplomat with more than 30 years of experience. She served as ambassador to Liberia, director general of the foreign service and assistant secretary of state for African affairs before being pushed out early in Trump's presidency.

"My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place," she said in a tweet. "I've carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service — and, if confirmed, will do the same as Ambassador to the United Nations."

Sullivan, who at 43 will be one of the youngest national security advisers in history, was a top aide to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton before becoming then vice-president Biden's national security adviser. He said the president-elect had "taught me what it takes to safeguard our national security at the highest levels of our government."

"Now, he has asked me to serve as his national security adviser," Sullivan said. "In service, I will do everything in my power to keep our country safe."

Biden's incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, left, offered no details Sunday about which department heads Biden would first announce. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, made climate change one of his top priorities while serving as Obama's secretary of state.

"America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is," Kerry said. "I'm proud to partner with the president-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the president's climate envoy."

Mayorkas, who turns 61 on Tuesday, was a deputy Homeland Security secretary under Obama.

Ron Klain, Biden's incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration's refusal to clear the way for Biden's team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the cabinet selection process.


  • A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the nominee for secretary of state as Anthony Blinken. He is, in fact, Antony Blinken.
    Nov 23, 2020 1:39 PM ET

With files from CBC News


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?