Latest News & Current Events

Women organized to make Janet Yellen "The Most Powerful Person In The World"

With President Obama hemmed in by opposition in Congress, the Fed chair is currently the most powerful policymaker in the United States, meaning that the most powerful public official in the world will soon be a woman.

The Senate confirmed Janet Yellen as the next Federal Reserve chairman Monday, ensuring that the central bank's pro-growth policies since the Great Recession will likely continue. The 56-26 vote for President Obama's nominee was largely along party lines in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Yellen, 67, the Fed's vice chair since 2010, will become the first woman to head a major central bank when her four-year term begins Feb. 1. She will succeed Ben Bernanke, whose bold actions to pump money into the economy during the 2008 financial crisis are credited with helping the nation avoid a second Great Depression.

Yellen however was never the president's first choice. The position had long been promised to Larry Summers in exchange for his agreeing to serve during Obama's first term as economic adviser, rather than as Treasury secretary, the role he held in the Clinton administration. Throughout the summer, reports surfaced that Summers remained the president's leading choice for Fed chair, even though Yellen had attracted broad support and been endorsed by more than 450 economists across the political spectrum.

At first quietly, and then not so quietly, women went to work organizing opposition to Summers, based jointly on his failed economic track record and his history of sexist and insensitive remarks. More than a year before he withdrew his name from consideration for chairmanship of the Federal Reserve, in less than 24 hours, a brand new progressive women's group called Ultraviolet had collected more than 37,000 signatures demanding that President Barack Obama spike his former economic adviser and choose "a nominee who believes girls have the same potential as boys."

According to a new Huffington Post article; Ultraviolet and the National Organization for Women took the lead. While the grassroots groups gathered petitions, asked people to call Congress, and launched a public education campaign to highlight Yellen's abundant qualifications for Fed chair, a group of powerful female donors made personal calls to members of the Senate Banking Committee.

"It wasn't so much that we wanted a woman to head up the Fed," said Georgia Berner, a businesswoman and progressive donor who previously served on a regional Fed board. "It was that we did not believe that an intelligent, competent person should be discounted because of their gender."

Berner is a member of the Women Donors Network, an influential group of women who organize behind progressive causes. She told HuffPost that when she called members of the committee to lobby against Summers, her economic argument resonated with them. She noted that he had led the undoing of the Glass-Steagall Act, which removed the wall between banks and investment firms and arguably played a major role in the creation of banks that were "too big to fail."

"I did speak to a couple of male senators, one of whom said, 'You knew about Glass-Steagall?' with surprise and interest, I think pleased to hear from a female supporter who was advocating Yellen based upon economic philosophy rather than gender," Berner said.

According toHuffPost Margery Tabankin, who advises Hollywood donors on which politicians and causes to support, was also involved in the effort, to , as was philanthropist Nancy Bagley and Los Angeles businesswoman Suzanne Lerner.

The Women Donors Network has 200 activist philanthropists and gives away more than $200 million a year to various progressive issues. The organization provided the seed funding for Ultraviolet, one of the main groups driving the Yellen campaign. But WDN president Donna Hall says the effort to get Yellen nominated did not actually involve a lot of money.

"Women had a strong voice," Hall told HuffPost. "I don't think very much money changed hands at all. What we did is a lot of organizing -- letters, advertising, a coordinated effort to bring awareness through Ultraviolet,, things like that. Public opinion came through very strongly in favor of a woman candidate who really had not been championed."

Hall and more than 125 powerful female leaders wrote a letter to Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urging them to nominate Yellen."While her nomination would be historic for breaking the glass ceiling at the highest levels of monetary policymaking, her experience and leadership while at the Federal Reserve are the most important qualifications you should weigh while making this important appointment," the letter said. "She has the stature, the record, the brilliance and the strength to capture the respect of her colleagues and to command the respect of bankers here and abroad."

Yellen, the former president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and current vice chair of the Fed, was one of the few economists who predicted in 2007 that the housing bubble would burst. She also notably did not champion the financial deregulation policies that led to the recession.

Women's groups argued that Yellen was the most qualified candidate, and the fact that her nomination would break a glass ceiling was just a bonus. But as one WDN donor pointed out, nominating her turned out to be a smart political move for other reasons, allowing Obama to avoid a nasty confirmation fight over Summers at the height of Obamacare's troubled rollout. "The White House should send a gift basket to the women's groups for what they did," the donor said.

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