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Warren signs letter backing Yellen to lead the Fed

Elizabeth Warren backed the rival of Larry Summers to lead the Federal Reserve.

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Elizabeth Warren backed the rival of Larry Summers to lead the Federal Reserve.

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren on Friday urged President Obama to appoint Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve, choosing to back Yellen instead of her former Harvard colleague, Larry Summers.

The influential Massachusetts Democrat signed onto a one-page letter circulating among Senate Democrats that calls on Obama to appoint Yellen, who would become the first woman to hold the position. Yellen is currently the Fed’s vice chair, and has worked closely with chairman Ben Bernanke, who is expected to retire when his term ends in January.

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Speculation has swirled in Washington this week that the position is down to two front-runners, Yellen and Summers.

Summers is a former top Obama administration adviser who was also treasury secretary under President Clinton. But he is also a voluble presence, known for a tough management style.

Senate Democrats have been circulating a letter that doesn’t mention Summers, but makes a point of praising Yellen — and urging the president to appoint her. The letter has not been made public, and a copy obtained by the Globe did not list signatures. One source estimated that nearly half of the Senate Democrats had signed on.

A Warren spokeswoman confirmed to the Globe late on Friday that the Massachusetts senator had signed it. The state’s other senator, Democrat Edward J. Markey, had not signed, according to his office.

Warren and Summers have a history that has been at times cordial, and at times contentious.

Warren was a professor at Harvard Law School when Summers resigned as Harvard’s president in 2006 for making comments suggesting that gender differences partly explained why fewer women pursued careers in math and science.

They later clashed when Warren was heading a congressional oversight panel.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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