Another board seat filled – at the Federal Reserve

(Dec. 4, 2020) Following the Senate’s action to fill out the membership of the NCUA Board, on Thursday the Senate filled one of two empty seats on the Federal Reserve Board, confirming Christopher Waller. But it wasn’t a cakewalk: by many accounts, it was one of the closest confirmation votes ever for a central bank board member.

Waller, now executive vice president/director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (and a former professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame), was confirmed on a vote of 48-47, with all Democrats and Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) voting against.

Thursday’s vote marked the first time the Senate had confirmed a Fed governor in a lame-duck period that follows the November election before the president’s term ends in January. Further, Fed governors are more typically confirmed on much more lop-sided votes, with 60 votes or more in favor.

The close vote for Waller (considered a “non-controversial” nominee) may signal bad news for the future on the Fed Board for the nominee to the other open seat: Judy Shelton. She has received a cool reception in the Senate, particularly among Democrats, for her past comments about bringing back the gold standard, questioning the effectiveness of federal deposit insurance, and the Fed’s independence from political influence.

Last month, Shelton’s nomination came before the Senate and failed to earn enough votes to cut off debate – action that would have paved the way for a final vote on her nomination. The close vote on Waller likely indicates the controversial Shelton will have a tough time being considered again in the Senate. In fact, Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Thursday that another vote on Shelton’s nomination was “unlikely” at this point.