Senate Confirms Bernanke for Second Term as Fed Chief

Oct. 1: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies on Capitol Hill. (AP)

Oct. 1: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies on Capitol Hill. (AP)

The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Ben Bernanke for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve just days after the nomination was in serious jeopardy. 

The Senate voted 70-30 in favor of reappointing Bernanke as head of the central bank -- the closest vote ever for a nominee for Fed chairman.

Before approving the confirmation, the Senate overcame a filibuster that would have doomed his nomination with a 77-23 vote.

In recent months, both Democrats and Republicans have assailed the Wall Street bailout, especially after banks rescued by taxpayer money started paying out big bonuses to their executives. The criticism intensified following the Massachusetts Senate race, in which a Republican outsider rode a wave of populist, anti-Washington anger to victory.

Tapping that populist rage, Democrats in particular rushed to voice doubts about and even opposition to Bernanke, who was at the Fed when the nation nose-dived into a financial crisis.

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Republicans also voiced compassion for unemployed Americans as both parties sought political leverage in what could be a pivotal midterm election year.

Opponents on both sides of the aisle criticized Bernanke for failing to detect the housing bubble and keep it from bursting. Even one of his loudest proponents, Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Banking Committee, criticized Bernanke at the time for this. 

But the Connecticut Democrat also worked overtime behind the scenes to help President Obama rescue the nomination, telling reporters that there was a genuine fear about the effect a failure would have on the stock market.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., captured that populist sentiment in emotional speeches against Bernanke, leading a filibuster against the nominee.

Democratic leaders, who themselves were undecided just days ago, scrambled to save Bernanke. The president and Cabinet members made personal calls to senators.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, the Democrats' vote-counter, even brought Bernanke in for a one-on-one meeting Monday to announce his full support, saying Democrats could protest against Wall Street by supporting financial regulatory reform and an upcoming jobs package instead of rejecting Bernanke.

But not everyone was sold.

"There's blood in the water," one GOP senator told Fox News last week, as he himself tried to come to grips with what to do about the nomination. The senator said Democrats were even calling him trying to figure out what to do.

Sen Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., whose state's unemployment rate hovers near 13 percent, echoed the frustrations of many fellow senators, decrying the $16.2 billion in bonuses for Goldman Sachs, and $9.3 billion for J.P. Morgan. He said Bernanke and the Fed had not done enough to help the little guy.

"Ben Bernanke bears considerable responsibility for the lax regulation that brought about the housing bubble. And there is nothing that he could confess to erase that," Whitehouse said, announcing his intention to oppose the nomination.

It is important, however, to note that Whitehouse, like several of his Democratic colleagues, will vote to shut down the filibuster, a critical 60-vote threshold Majority Leader Harry Reid must meet to get to a final confirmation vote.

Whitehouse admonished Obama's economic team.

"I want to express with my vote that the leaders of President Obama's economic team must pivot from the necessary rescue of our major financial institutions to equally-if- not-more-necessary help to America's families," he said.

The lead proponent of Bernanke on the Republican side, Sen Judd Gregg, R-N.H., argued that the very way Bernanke handled the economic crisis is the very reason he should be confirmed to a second term.

"This would be the person I would want to hire, because I think he is the best person for the job, and is he perfect? No," Gregg said. "Nobody's perfect anywhere, but has he proven himself to be an extraordinarily talented and aggressive leader who saw a crisis, managed it, and kept a lot of Americans from having a much more severe impact on their lifestyle as a result of his actions? Yes."

Regrettably, Gregg said, the president fanned the flames of discontent by joining the anti-Wall Street mob and "threw kerosene on the fire" -- a move Gregg said "unfortunately blew back on his own Fed chair nominee."

Fox News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.