Trump Takes Aim At The Federal Reserve Board
President Trump is now apparently on the warpath against the Federal Reserve Board Chairman he appointed only a year ago.
In addition to all of the political headaches that President Trump has faced in the month and a half since the midterm elections, the ongoing Mueller investigation, the decision to withdraw troops from Syria, and the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, the one thing that he could point to as a sign of success seems to be coming back to bite him. The economy and the stock market, which previously had seemed to be doing quite well are starting to show signs of age, and President clearly doesn’t like it. On the economic side, the latest jobs report showed that while the economy is still moving forward it clearly isn’t booming the way Republicans said it would after they passed their tax cut bill last December. On Wall Street meanwhile, where there had been a boom that began shortly after the 2016 election, investors have seen the worst December on record since 1931, and the shutdown is likely to have a negative impact on the markets heading into the new year. Things became even more complicated this week when, as expected, the Federal Reserve Board raised interest rates by the same quarter point they’ve been raising rates on an occasional basis for the past several years. While this was expected, and it was accompanied by an assessment of the economy that should have been good news for Wall Street, the markets didn’t take it that way and markets headed further south.
All of this has led to reports that President Trump is apparently now openly talking about firing Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell:
President Donald Trump has begun polling advisers about whether he has the legal authority to fire Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, according to two people familiar with the matter, who described the President as newly furious at the Fed chief as markets tumble.
Earlier this year, Trump’s advisers told the President that it was doubtful he would have the law behind him if he fired Powell. But Trump has renewed the issue after the Fed again raised its benchmark interest rate this week.
So far, the White House hasn’t come to a final legal determination on Trump’s authority to fire his Fed chairman, whom he nominated a year ago. The law states the President can fire a Fed governor for cause, but it hasn’t been tested on the firing of a chairman.
Top West Wing economic advisers have warned Trump that firing Powell would only exacerbate the problem the President is ostensibly trying to solve: nose-diving markets. The unprecedented move would likely cause more turmoil.
Bloomberg first reported Trump’s latest frustrations with Powell.
CNN has previously reported that Trump’s anxiety is mounting about the economy as warning signs of a global slowdown emerge. On days when the market is down double-digits, Trump has surveyed his team about whether he’ll catch the blame. Many have told him he likely will.
Whipsaw markets and a string of steep dives have spawned a pervasive anxiety in the White House, according to senior officials, where for the past two years the strength of the US economy has provided steady reassurance amid even the deepest of political crises.
As Trump faces fresh vulnerability — most aspects of his life are now under investigation just as Democrats are preparing to assume control of the House — the economy no longer offers the same comfort it once did, despite rising wages and the lowest unemployment rate in half a century, according to interviews with multiple White House officials and people close to Trump.
More from Bloomberg:
President Donald Trump has discussed firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell as his frustration with the central bank chief intensified following this week’s interest-rate hike and months of stock-market losses, according to four people familiar with the matter.
Advisers close to Trump aren’t convinced he would move against Powell and are hoping that the president’s latest bout of anger will dissipate over the holidays, the people said on condition of anonymity. Some of Trump’s advisers have warned him that firing Powell would be a disastrous move.
Yet the president has talked privately about firing Powell many times in the past few days, said two of the people
Any attempt by Trump to push out Powell would have potentially devastating ripple effects across financial markets, undermining investors’ confidence in the central bank’s ability to shepherd the economy without political interference. It would come as markets have plummeted in recent weeks, with the major stock indexes already down sharply for the year.
White House spokespeople declined to comment, as did Fed spokeswoman Michelle Smith.
Trump’s public and private complaints about members of his administration have often been a first step toward their departures — including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and outgoing chief of staff John Kelly.
It’s unclear how much legal authority the president has to fire Powell. The Federal Reserve Act says governors may be “removed for cause by the President.” Since the chairman is also a governor, that presumably extends to him or her, but the rules around firing the leader are legally ambiguous, as Peter Conti-Brown of the University of Pennsylvania notes in his book on Fed independence.
Such a move would represent an unprecedented challenge to the Fed’s independence. Though he was nominated by the president, Powell was thought to be insulated from Trump’s dissatisfaction by a tradition of respect for the independence of the central bank.
That separation of politics from monetary policy is supposed to instill confidence that Fed officials will do what’s right for the economy over the long term rather than bend to the short-term whims of a politician.
Trump’s frustration with Powell has greatly intensified in recent days, said two of the people. Though Trump’s aim is to stop interest rate increases that slow economic growth, such a move could backfire by roiling already turbulent financial markets.
Even routine changes at the top of central banks create uncertainty in markets as investors try to assess how tough a new leader may be in preventing the economy from overheating and accelerating inflation. Another problem with dismissing a sitting Fed chief may be finding a replacement who wants assurance that he or she won’t succumb to the same fate as Powell.
As noted, it is unclear under existing law whether the President even has the authority to remove Powell as either a Governor of the Federal Reserve Board before his current term expires in 2028 or as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board itself. The later position carries with it a four-year term which means at least in theory that Powell would be in place until at least 2022 when either Trump would be in the middle of his second term or a new President will be in the middle of their first. In addition to this it should be remembered that, while the Chairman is the public face of the Federal Reserve Board and an influential voice in decision making, he is but one vote on the Board of Governors. By all accounts, the current interest rate policy being followed by the Fed Reserve is unanimously supported by the Board of Governors, although there appears to be some disagreement at the moment among the Governors about how many rate increases may be necessary in the future. In other words, even if Trump does have the authority to remove Powell, doing so would not have any impact on current Fed policy. In order for that to happen, the President would have to remove every single member of the Board of Governors and try to replace them with people whose interest rate policies are more to his liking. (I know what you’re thinking — Don’t give him any ideas, Doug.)
Even if Trump doesn’t follow through with these threats against Powell, the fact that he is even thinking about it is yet another example of the ways in which he is demonstrating that he doesn’t give a damn about political norms or about acting in a responsible and rational manner. If nothing else, the idea of political interference in the financial and monetary markets in this manner is something that can only have negative consequences. For all of its faults, the one advantages of the Federal Reserve Board over the past century has been the fact that it has created a wall of separation between monetary policy and the state. If you want to know why that’s important, you need only to look at the countless examples throughout history of the damage that can be done when political leaders have control of monetary policy. The Federal Reserve has not been perfect, indeed as Milton Friedman demonstrated aptly in his most iconic work it was largely the easy money policies of the Federal Reserve that created the asset bubble and speculation-based economy that led to the Great Depression. Wisely, though, Congress responded to that event by amending the relevant laws that had allowed politics to influence Fed decisions in the early years of its existence. For the most part since then, and especially in the nearly forty years that have unfolded since President Carter appointed Paul Volcker as Chairman of the Fed, the Board has done a good job of getting inflation under control and avoiding situations where monetary policy gets perverted for political ends. Trump would throw that all aside because he doesn’t like the current state of the financial markets and blames the Fed for making him look bad. Thankfully, the law doesn’t make it very easy for him to do anything about that.