Biden Fed nominee backed reparations for Black Americans for slavery, discrimination

Biden backed commission to study reparations on campaign trail

President Biden's nominee for governor of the Federal Reserve has said repeatedly that she supports reparations, the controversial proposed policy of financial compensation for Black Americans as a form of atonement for slavery and discrimination.

"Everybody benefited from slavery. Everybody," Lisa Cook, a Michigan State University professor, said in a September 2020 "EconTalk" podcast. "So, I think that we absolutely need some sort of reckoning with that. There are many proposals on the table to study the possibility of reparations, many economic proposals being put forward, and I think they should all be taken seriously."

Biden said during the 2020 presidential campaign that he supports the study of reparations. White House press secretary Jen Psaki doubled down on that last year when asked about H.R. 40, a House bill that would create a commission to study reparations. Cook said last March she supports that bill, too. 

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook, associate professor at Michigan State University, arrives for dinner during the Jackson Hole economic symposium, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, in Moran, Wyoming, Aug. 23, 2018. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)


"One thing I do support is H.R. 40 which would put in place a commission to study this. I think that's absolutely what needs to be done," Cook said at a forum hosted by the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business. "It's difficult not to comment on a particular plan because there could be many different plans to achieve the kinds of reparations that [two authors] are suggesting." 

H.R. 40 is intended to "establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans," according to its authors. 

Cook also endorsed a tweet in early 2020 advocating for reparations that are "race-specific, because the injury was race-specific." 

But critics say reparations are not practical, that there is no good way to fairly distribute payments and that the United States has made such significant progress on racial equality reparations aren't necessary. 

Vernon AME Church pastor Robert Turner holds a

Vernon AME Church pastor Robert Turner holds a "reparations now" sign after leading a protest from City Hall to his church in the Greenwood neighborhood on Nov. 18, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla., the site of the 1921 race massacre in which hundreds of Black (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"I also find it ironic we're having this hearing 13 years after we elected, and then reelected, the first Black president of the United States," conservative radio host Larry Elder said in a House Judiciary Committee hearing last year. "Having this conversation right now when racism has never been a less significant problem in America is mind-boggling."


"I can't imagine a more divisive, polarizing or unjust measure than one that would by government force require people who never owned slaves to pay reparations to those who never were slaves based not on anything they'd done but because of what race they were born," Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said at the same hearing. 

And if a reparations effort aims to distribute money to people who are actual descendants of slaves, Elder added, "figuring out who owes what is going to be a hell of an achievement." 

Cook also has a long history of more general liberal activism. She said in 2020 she supported "bail funds" that were active during the summer 2020 riots – the same kind of groups that Vice President Kamala Harris was criticized for backing in 2020. Cook also advocated for people to donate to Stacey Abrams' "Fair Fight" political group at the same speaking engagement. 

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 27: President Joe Biden and the White House COVID-19 Response Team participate in a virtual call with the National Governors Association from the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House Complex on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden spoke to governors about their concerns regarding the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus and the need for more COVID-19 tests. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

President Biden participates in a virtual call with the National Governors Association Dec. 27, 2021, in Washington. Biden backed a bill to study reparations on the campaign trail.  (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The Fed governor nominee also serves on the advisory board of the Opportunity & Inclusive Growth Institute at the Minneapolis Fed. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., previously accused that body of creating work "heavily laden with political and value judgments" and engaging in "political advocacy" that has no place in the work of a financial regulator like the Fed. 


"The Minneapolis Fed increasingly has focused on politically-charged causes, like racial justice activism, that are wholly unrelated to the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate," Toomey said in a 2021 letter. He added that many of the Minneapolis Fed's works and publications are "extremely political in nature and fall well outside the mission and expertise of the Federal Reserve."

Biden, however, lauded Cook as a "talented economist with decades of experience working on a broad range of economic issues." He added that Cook and other recent Fed nominees "will bring much needed expertise, judgement and leadership to the Federal Reserve while at the same time bringing a diversity of thought and perspective never seen before on the Board of Governors."