US Senate confirms Jefferson as Fed vice chair, Cook to new term on board

FILE PHOTO: Senate Banking Committee holds hearing on Federal Reserve nominees on Capitol Hill in Washington
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By Ann Saphir and Richard Cowan

(Reuters) -The U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed Philip Jefferson as vice chair of the Federal Reserve in an 88-10 vote that signaled broad bipartisan support for the U.S. central bank's second-in-command as policymakers near a potential watershed moment in their battle against inflation.

Senators also confirmed Fed Governor Lisa Cook to a fresh 14-year term at the central bank, though they did so in a 51-47 vote that broke along partisan lines.

Both Jefferson and Cook have a PhD in economics and became Fed governors in May of 2022 after long careers in academia.

They have voted for every interest rate hike since then as the central bank has lifted its benchmark overnight interest rate from the near-zero level in March 2022 to the current 5.25%-5.50% range.

With interest rates now seen as high enough to slow the economy and cool the job market, Fed policymakers are widely expected to leave the policy rate unchanged at their Sept. 19-20 meeting.

But they will also likely keep the door open for one last rate hike before the end of the year, giving themselves time to assess if they have done enough to vanquish inflation that just last year was running at 40-year highs.

The tally in support of Jefferson's confirmation surpassed the 80-19 vote confirming Fed Chair Jerome Powell to a second term as head of the central bank last year, itself an unusually decisive margin in an often narrowly divided body.

Jefferson's new role means he will work closely with Powell and New York Fed President John Williams to hash out policy alternatives ahead of each rate-setting meeting attended by the full panel of 19 U.S. central bankers.

The U.S. central bank's vice chair, whose term is four years, also traditionally serves as the Fed chief's go-to official on policy communications, underscoring key messages and clarifying potential misinterpretations.

Also on Wednesday, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted to clear the way for a confirmation vote for Adriana Kugler, a World Bank economist who would fill the last vacant seat on the seven-member Fed board.

The confirmations of Jefferson, Cook and Kugler would make the board the most diverse in the central bank's more-than-100-year history. Jefferson is only the second Black man ever to be appointed to the institution's No. 2 job; Cook is the first Black woman to be a board member, and Kugler will be its first Latina.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Andrea Ricci and Paul Simao)