President Joe Biden named former crypto industry adviser Michael Barr as his latest pick for a Federal Reserve post that’s arguably the most powerful financial regulator job in the U.S.
Michael Barr, who is now the public policy school dean at the University of Michigan Law School, was a senior official in former President Barack Obama’s Treasury and occupied a key role in the government’s rescue of the financial system from the ruins of the 2008 financial crisis. But the most important aspect of his background for the digital-assets industry could potentially be his tenure on the board of advisers at Ripple, giving him an insider’s knowledge of crypto.
The White House announced Barr’s selection as the next nominee for the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision on Friday, praising him as a person who “spent his career protecting consumers.” But he’ll face a Senate confirmation minefield that already eliminated Biden’s previous choice, Sarah Bloom Raskin.
The official announcement didn’t mention Barr’s background with the financial industry, which also included a stint at financial-technology platform Lending Club. Barr was hired in 2015 on the board of Ripple Labs, when he said that he thought “innovation in payments can help make the financial system safer, reduce cost, and improve access and efficiency for consumers and businesses alike.”
It was that industry experience that previously soured progressive groups on Barr, who had been an early Biden administration favorite to run the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. That candidacy was derailed by opposition from the left, and the post remains vacant after some Senators vehemently opposed another candidate.
In the evenly-divided Senate, Republicans have campaigned vigorously against some of Biden’s regulatory nominations, leaving Barr’s eventual confirmation in some question. Though he’s previously won bipartisan support in that chamber, he could be on a more difficult road this time.
If he’s confirmed, he’ll occupy a leadership role in the multi-agency efforts already underway to regulate stablecoins and to consider further guardrails for the rest of the crypto industry.
Barr is generally considered a consumer-friendly advocate for aggressive financial oversight, with deep experience in financial-inclusion efforts. He co-authored the book “Insufficient Funds,” about the finances of poor families in Detroit, and wrote “No Slack: The Financial Lives of Low-Income Americans.” The Treasury veteran also helped craft the same Dodd-Frank Act that established the vice chairman role that Barr is seeking.
In a statement, Senate Banking Committee Sherrod Brown said, “I will support this key nominee, and I strongly urge my Republican colleagues to abandon their old playbook of personal attacks and demagoguery and put Americans and their pocketbooks first.”
UPDATE (April 15, 2022, 15:10 UTC): Adds statement from Sherrod Brown.
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