WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday called Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell a "phenomenal leader." His comments marked the administration's first praise of the central bank since a barrage of criticism by President Donald Trump.
In an interview with CNBC, Mnuchin says he respects the Fed's independence. He says he believes Powell understands the need for economic growth and will be careful in implementing monetary policy. "I think Jay has been a phenomenal leader at the Fed," Mnuchin said.
Mnuchin's comments came after criticism Trump has aimed at the Fed in recent weeks. Trump has said he is not happy with the Fed's rate hikes, saying they could threaten the stronger economic growth he is trying to achieve with his economic program of tax cuts and deregulation.
After refraining from criticizing the Fed during his first 18 months in office, Trump since late July has gone public with his complaints.
In a Reuters interview last week, Trump said he was "not thrilled" with the rate hikes. He made similar comments in a July CNBC interview and in a July tweet, he said, "The United States should not be penalized because we are doing so well. Tightening now hurts all that we have done."
In his television appearance Tuesday, Mnuchin was asked his views on the central bank's rate actions with two rate hikes this year and projections for two more hikes later this year.
Mnuchin refused to comment directly on Fed policy, "As Treasury secretary, I respect the independence of the Fed."
He noted that he meets with Powell on a weekly basis to discuss economic issues, continuing a long-standing practice of weekly breakfasts between Fed leaders and the Treasury secretary.
"I think he understands the issue of growth and he's carefully monitoring the growth numbers and the inflation numbers," Mnuchin said.
In a speech Friday at the Fed's annual policy conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Powell signaled that the Fed is still on track to keep raising interest rates at a gradual pace.
The Fed, under former Chair Janet Yellen, boosted rates three times last year during Trump's first year in office and twice more so far this year.
While Powell did not address Trump's criticism in his Wyoming speech, other Fed officials interviewed at Jackson Hole said they did not expect Trump's comments would have any impact of the Fed's upcoming rate decisions.