(Bloomberg) — Janet Yellen called for closing the U.S. wealth gap and restoring American standing abroad as the former Federal Reserve chair was introduced as President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to be the next Treasury secretary.

© Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Janet Yellen speaks during an event to name President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team on Dec. 1.

In brief remarks Tuesday as Biden unveiled members of his incoming administration’s economic team, Yellen vowed to “build our economy back better than before” — echoing his campaign theme. She urged a renewed focus on addressing economic inequities that she called an “American tragedy” that must be tackled.

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“It’s essential that we move with urgency — inaction will produce a self-reinforcing downturn causing yet more devastation,” she said.

She also welcomed Biden’s choice to serve as deputy Treasury secretary, Adewale Adeyemo, known as Wally, to the team.

“To the great public servants of the Treasury Department, I look forward to working with you and Wally to rebuild the public trust,” she said.

If confirmed as Treasury secretary by the Senate, Yellen would play a leading role in shaping Biden’s economic policy, especially its response to the coronavirus pandemic that has cost millions of U.S. jobs.

Yellen would also have a role in foreign policy and national security interests through the agency’s sanctions portfolios. She said she hopes to work with Biden’s foreign policy team to “help restore America’s global leadership.”

Biden said he wants to “create a recovery for everybody” — a message that counters criticism that the recovery from the financial crisis during the Obama administration added to the gap between America’s richest and poorest. President Donald Trump won the 2016 election in part by tapping into frustration over the disparity, reaching voters who felt overlooked by policymakers who lauded the broader economic comeback even as they continued to struggle.

“It’s time we address the structural inequities in our economy that this crisis has laid bare,” Biden said Tuesday.

In Yellen, Biden will have a battle-tested policy maker who can draw on her nearly two decades at the Fed to help rebuild an economy in dire need of government cash and confidence.

Biden also announced other picks for his economic policy team early Monday, including longtime Democratic policy staffer Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Cecilia Rouse, formerly of the Obama administration and currently dean of Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, will head the Council of Economic Advisers. Both roles require Senate confirmation.

Adeyemo said Tuesday that the department will “remain laser-focused” on protecting national security, including “using our sanctions regime to hold bad actors accountable.”

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