Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said on Monday that he would support Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen as the board's next chair, making him the first Republican senator to publicly come out and back her.
Roberts made his comments in Wichita at the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association annual meeting. According to the Wichita Eagle, "Roberts said he supports Janet Yellen to replace Ben Bernanke when his term as chairman of the Federal Reserve expires at the end of January."
The conservative senator strongly criticized former chief White House economic adviser Larry Summers, who is reportedly one of the frontrunners for the nomination.
"I wouldn't want Larry Summers to mow my yard," Roberts said. "He's terribly controversial and brusque and I don't think he works well with either side of the aisle, quite frankly."
Roberts also said he had some reservations about Yellen, despite his support for her.
“She's very solid in how she approaches fiscal matters, the economy and the Fed, but you need a very strong leader and I'm not sure she has that capability,” he added.
Roberts' office did not immediately return a request for additional comment. His show of support for Yellen adds to the strong backing she has already received from a number of Democratic senators and Democratic women in the House.
More than 30 law and economics professors sent President Barack Obama a letter on Monday urging him to choose Yellen.
Long before becoming Obama's chief economic adviser, Summers served in the Clinton administration, first as a protege of Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin and then as Treasury secretary himself, and helped lead the effort to deregulate Wall Street. Many Yellen supporters are worried that Summers would follow in the footsteps of his mentor and dial back the Fed's efforts to lower unemployment in order to appease the bond market. Yellen, meanwhile, argues that protecting bondholders is not the Fed's only job.
In a private meeting with House Democrats last month, Obama rose to Summers' defense when lawmakers began criticizing his potential nomination.
But in an Aug. 9 press conference, Obama denied that Summers had any sort of "inside track" to the nomination.
"I have a range of outstanding candidates," said Obama. "You've mentioned two of them ... and they're both terrific people. I think the perception that Mr. Summers might have an inside track simply had to do with a bunch of attacks that I was hearing on Mr. Summers preemptively, which is sort of a standard Washington exercise that I don't like ... So I tend to defend folks who I think have done a good job and don't deserve attacks."
"My main criteria for the Fed Reserve chairman is somebody who understands they've got a dual mandate," he added. "A critical part of the job is making sure that we keep inflation in check, that our monetary policy is sound, that the dollar is sound. Those are all critical components of the job ... But the other mandate is full employment. And right now, if you look at the biggest challenges we have, the challenge is not inflation; the challenge is we've still got too many people out of work, too many long-term unemployed, too much slack in the economy, and we're not growing as fast as we should."
UPDATE: 8/21/13 -- In a follow-up interview with Politico, Roberts clarified that he would not be voting for Yellen even though he preferred her to Summers. Read more here.