A day after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell asserted his independence from the White House, President Donald Trump lashed out, suggesting that nobody had heard of Powell until Trump selected him to run the Fed and implying that the head of Europe's central bank was making better decisions.
"Here's a guy, nobody ever heard of him before, and now I made him and he wants to show how tough he is? OK. Let him show how tough he is," Trump said. "He's not doing a good job."
Powell, nominated by Trump in 2017 to serve as Fed chairman, has been a Fed governor since 2012. Before joining the Fed, Powell, age 66, amassed a fortune in private equity, including as a partner at the Carlyle Group.
Trump also voiced jealousy over Europe's monetary policy. Last week, he criticized Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, for saying the bank was prepared to prop up Europe's economy unless it improves. Trump said Draghi was trying to push down the value of the euro to give Europe an unfair advantage.
"We should have Draghi, instead of our Fed person. Draghi, last week, he said lower interest rates and we're going to stimulate the economy, they're going to put money into the economy," Trump said.
On Wednesday, Trump directed all his fire at Powell, whom he accuses of not doing enough to help boost the U.S. economy. Trump, who has pinned his re-election hopes on economic growth, has blamed Powell for working at cross-purposes with his policies, including his $1.5 trillion tax cut and increased government spending.
"For us, we have a Fed that keeps raising interest rates, you explain that one, and this was not what I thought we had," the president said.
The president's attacks are the latest in a nearly yearlong assault on Powell and the Fed, but their timing is incongruous. Powell and his colleagues have paused their steady campaign to raise rates and have shifted to indicating they might start cutting rates to help sustain the economic expansion, which is about to reach a 10-year record.
Fed officials have not lifted interest rates since December 2018, and a growing number of officials expect to cut rates before the end of the year as global growth weakens and risks from Trump's trade war persist, based on releases following the central bank's meeting last week.
Powell reiterated that message on Tuesday in New York, saying that "crosscurrents have re-emerged, with apparent progress on trade turning to greater uncertainty and with incoming data raising renewed concerns about the strength of the global economy."
The Fed chairman also emphasized the central bank's independence and insulation from the administration during his remarks.
"We are a strictly nonpolitical agency," he said in response to a question about Trump's continuing attacks. "We're human, we'll make mistakes," he added, but "we won't make mistakes of integrity or character."
Those comments came after Trump on Monday accused the Fed of botching its job.
"Now they stick, like a stubborn child, when we need rates cuts, & easing, to make up for what other countries are doing against us. Blew it!" Trump said on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Trump said that "I've had nine interest rate hikes," while President Barack Obama "had nothing. he had cheap money."
It is true that the Fed has raised rates nine times since late 2015, but two of those rate increases were during Obama's time in office. And the Fed's campaign to slowly raise rates came after it slashed rates to near zero in response to the financial crisis, as it tried to prop up an economy mired in recession.
Trump came into office as unemployment fell to very low levels and inflation showed tentative signs of life, causing the Fed to act to prevent overheating and keep the economy operating on an even keel. All of Trump's four nominees to the Fed board — not just Powell — have voted in favor of rate increases.
Trump has denied contemplating moves of firing or demoting Powell while asserting that he could if he wanted.
"I have the right to demote him, I have the right to fire him," he said Wednesday. "I never suggested that I was going to do that."
Because Fed governors can only be removed "for cause," Powell almost certainly cannot be fired. It is less clear whether he could be stripped of his title and left as simply a governor. Such a move could be challenged on the grounds that Powell was separately confirmed by the Senate for his four-year term as chairman.