Earlier this past month, Sen. Thom Tillis tweeted something that no one could disagree with.
“During #BlackHistoryMonth, we recognize the experiences and contributions of Black North Carolinians to our state.”
Those are easy words. But, the fact is, Sen. Tillis blocked the historic appointment of a Black North Carolinian to the powerful Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in the same month. His actions are wrong for our country, wrong for our state, and offensive to Black North Carolinians. So why is he doing it? He’s borrowing a favorite tactic out of the obstruction playbook. It’s called “scorched-earth politics,” where one party’s loss is always the other party’s gain, and he doesn’t seem to care if a worthy North Carolinian gets burned.
Here’s the story: President Biden nominated a slate of three people to fill vacant seats on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. It’s one of the most powerful economic policy posts in the country, meeting every six weeks to set our country’s interest rate policy and decide how to keep inflation low, and our economy growing for everyone’s benefit.
It’s also been an exclusively White club, so it is historic that President Biden included two Black nominees in the slate for the Senate to approve. All three of the candidates are clearly well qualified and mainstream, with impressive policy backgrounds and extensive experience at the Federal Reserve.
As a Black North Carolinian, I was especially proud of one nominee, Dr. Phillip Jefferson, who is currently a professor of economics and Dean at Davidson College – great school located in the town of Davidson that has long enjoyed close ties to the greater Charlotte community. Dr. Jefferson has the votes to win approval on the Senate floor, but Sen. Tillis is part of a group of Senate Banking Committee members blocking his nomination by refusing to do his job and show up for a Committee hearing. If he’s absent from the hearing, there’s no quorum. Therefore, an official meeting cannot be called to move the nominations forward.
In most cases, refusing to show up to do your job because you can’t get what you want is rightfully called a tantrum, plain and simple. Sen. Tillis says he isn’t opposed to Dr. Jefferson. He claims that he’s really just trying to block one of the other nominees, and that the Democrats are welcome to bring up Dr. Jefferson separately. But that explanation doesn’t hold water.
Tillis’s tactics violate Senate norms for Fed Governor candidates. In fact, they do it in such a way that he knows the Democrats can’t give in, so Sen. Tillis is effectively torpedoing all the candidates. Senate norms can be a convenient excuse for many arguments, but in this case, it’s true. The Federal Reserve is supposed to be independent of partisan politics. That’s not always possible. But where it has been possible is the Board of Governors.
As long as a President nominates a Fed Governor candidate who is clearly qualified and mainstream, that candidate typically gets some bipartisan support. For example, of the current four sitting Fed Governors, three were appointed under President Trump and received some Democratic support. The three other Trump Fed Governor nominations collapsed because the candidates were so flawed they couldn’t even get enough Republican votes.
There is nothing about Dr. Sarah Bloom-Raskin – the candidate Tillis particularly opposes – that makes her unqualified or out of the mainstream. In fact, she’s already been approved by the Senate twice in the past for senior positions at the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve.
Sen. Tillis and his colleagues accuse Dr. Bloom-Raskin of being out of the mainstream because, they say, she would focus inappropriately on climate change. Yet her views are actually in line with those of the Fed Chair, Jerome Powell. They also insinuate that she is guilty of some sort of improper influence on the Fed when she was in the private sector, but the president of the regional Federal Reserve Bank she supposedly influenced – known to be a conservative – has stated that nothing of the sort took place.
What’s really going on today is pure partisan politics that doesn’t belong in the Fed Governor process. Senator Tillis doesn’t care that Dr. Jefferson is a victim of his scorched-earth tactics. Our country is wading through rough economic waters, and we deserve a full and competent team in charge at the Federal Reserve to navigate them well.
North Carolinians of all races deserve to be proud that one of our own will serve in such an important position. Instead, we are left angry at the selfish partisan actions of our senator.
Apryl Lewis is a Community Organizer with Action NC, and directs its Fed Up campaign.