President Obama might try to solve his Janet Yellen problem by nominating another woman to the Federal Reserve's influential seven-member board of governors. Sources familiar with the nominating process confirmed to The Washington Post this weekend that Lael Brainard, an undersecretary of the Treasury, may be nominated to the Fed's board to fill one of three vacancies over the next few months. This might make it more acceptable for Obama to nominate Larry Summers, and not Yellen, to lead the Fed when Ben Bernanke retires in January.
Brainard is "one of the most highly ranked — and most visible — female members of President Obama’s economic team." According to the Post's sources, she is seriously considering accepting a nomination should Obama call on her. At the Treasury, she's the undersecretary for international affairs and has been on the "front lines" of the European crisis. John Hilsengrath and Victoria McGrane write at the Wall Street Journal that a Brainard nomination "could be helpful" to Obama should he choose to nominate Summers for chair.
The Fed chair appointment usually isn't so controversial, but it's been the subject of intense scrutiny over the past couple months. Many have pointed out that Obama could improve his middling record of promoting women in his administration by nominating current Fed vice chair Yellen to lead the Fed. Summers, who is thought to be Obama's top choice for the position, is no feminist's favorite. Summers still suffers from backlash from sexist comments he made in 2005 about women in math and science. And he doesn't have the support of the Senate, necessarily. At least three Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee are expected to oppose Summers if he's nominated. Dems have a two-vote majority on the committee, so approving a Summers nomination would require Republican support.
Yellen, on the other hand, is widely supported by Democrats. Women's groups have ramped up their support of her in recent weeks, pressuring Obama to nominate the "excellent candidate." NOW President Terry O'Neill has called Summers "a sexist who isn't that good at his job."
Democrats and women's groups might not get the Yellen nomination they want for Fed chair, and perhaps a Brainard nomination would appease them. Obama could also do the truly unthinkable and nominate both Brainard and Yellen, instead of choosing one as a token.
Photo: Brainard with Obama, Timothy Geithner, Robert Zoellick, and Michael Froman. By Kevin Lamarque for Reuters.