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Biden Nominates More Members Of His Economic Team

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President-elect Joe Biden is rounding out his economic team. In addition to Janet Yellen, who's been tapped as the next Treasury secretary, Biden has selected a trio of economists to serve as White House advisers. He's also chosen a deputy for Yellen and a new White House budget director. If confirmed by the Senate, this incoming team will help steer the economy through the immediate challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Biden also says he wants to confront more long-lasting economic problems. Well, to talk about this team and the work ahead of them, we're joined by NPR's Scott Horsley.

Welcome. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Well, what can you tell us about these nominees?

HORSLEY: It is a diverse group - four women, in addition to Yellen, two African Americans, one nominee of Indian descent. It's also a group with a lot of experience. Most of these nominees served in the Obama administration. Some were also in the Clinton administration, and several were in the government when the U.S. was recovering from the last economic meltdown a decade ago. So this is a team with some experience dealing with economic hardships.

They are people who, you know, believe in the government and, for the most part, have served in the government. Like Yellen, they are also mostly familiar faces, at least within the world of economic policymaking. So while in some instances the nominations are historic, they are not surprising. There's nobody out of left field here.

SHAPIRO: What's been the reaction so far?

HORSLEY: It's been generally positive. Certainly, news of Yellen's nomination, which broke last week, was very welcomed by other women in the economics field. She was a trailblazer in a profession that has not always been super welcoming for women. And a lot of women took extra satisfaction in Yellen being chosen as the first female Treasury secretary in U.S. history. The other nominees have the kinds of backgrounds you would more or less expect in a mainstream Democratic White House.

One, though, who has gotten some pushback is Neera Tanden. She's Biden's pick to head the White House Budget office. Tanden was a policy adviser to Hillary Clinton both in 2008 and 2016, and she now heads the Center for American Progress, which is a think tank started by Clinton ally John Podesta.

Tanden has been outspoken on Twitter, which, as we know, is not always a platform that encourages calm and measured discourse. So she has thrown some sharp elbows over the years. And a spokesman for Texas Senator John Cornyn says she's rubbed a lot of GOP senators the wrong way and has, quote, "zero chance of being confirmed." Now, I asked the spokesman for some specifics, and he has not responded. So I'm not sure whether the beef here is just, you know, bruised egos or something more substantial than that.

Tanden has also gotten some criticism from those on the left who see her as insufficiently progressive. The job of budget director is not usually really high-profile, but it is powerful within the federal bureaucracy. And either Tanden or whoever gets that post will have a hand on a lot of levers.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the challenges that this economic team is going to face because the economy has not yet fully recovered from the pandemic. What's ahead of them?

HORSLEY: Yeah, we still have millions of people out of work. And for those who haven't been able to go back to work yet, it could be a long time before they're back on the job. Every week we get news of more people being laid off. A lot of the relief efforts that Congress authorized very early in the pandemic has either already expired or is set to run out right after Christmas.

And meantime, the virus itself shows no signs of slowing down. As the weather gets colder, more people are spending time indoors, and more people are getting sick. We have gotten these encouraging results from some of the large-scale vaccine trials, and that does offer hope for next spring and summer. But first, the winter is going to be really tough.

SHAPIRO: I mentioned that in addition to tackling the immediate crisis, Biden hopes to address some longer-term economic problems. What does he have in mind there?

HORSLEY: Yeah, obviously, the first job is going to be dealing with the immediate hardships caused by the recession. And even before the president-elect takes office, Biden has been pushing for additional relief from Congress. But he also said in announcing these picks today that he wants the team to address the structural challenges that workers were facing before the pandemic and will continue to face when it's over. Cecilia Rouse, for example, who Biden has tapped to chair the Council of Economic Advisers, has devoted her academic career to looking at how to improve education and combat discrimination. And Janet Yellen herself used her very first tweet today to say she wants to build an American dream for everybody.

SHAPIRO: A new day when Janet Yellen is on Twitter. That's NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley.

Thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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