President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE’s intensifying attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell are having a destabilizing effect on financial markets and rattling Republican lawmakers.
Trump's criticisms of the central bank’s chief policymaker kicked into high gear Monday, not long after Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinFormer Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan MORE tried to reassure markets by insisting Trump has no intention of firing Powell.
Trump has undercut that claim by blaming the Fed for market volatility and recent economic woes.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 653 points on Monday in the worst day-before-Christmas stock performance in history as Trump renewed his attack on the Fed for raising interest rates last week. The S&P entered a bear market and is now down more than 20 percent from its August peak.
Economic experts say Trump is having a destabilizing effect on markets, and GOP lawmakers have publicly urged him to tread more carefully in his public remarks about the Fed, an independent institution.
Vin Weber, a former economic adviser to Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight MORE’s 2012 presidential campaign, warned against taking drastic measures, saying firing Powell would provoke a “very bad” reaction.
“People, regardless of their views on monetary policy, would view that as an assault on the independence of the Fed and it would shake confidence considerably,” he said Monday.
Trump’s attempts to influence monetary policy, Weber said, are likely to backfire because they will only make the Fed’s job more difficult as it tries to maintain its credibility and independence.
“The president is creating an impossible situation for the Fed because anybody appointed to the Board of Governors of the Fed has to have among their priorities preserving the independence of the Fed,” he said. “Everybody would be really rattled if they thought the Fed was not operating as an independent institution.”
“So when the president is so vocal in criticizing the Fed, he almost forces them to prove their independence by going against him or making a very public show of not doing what he wants,” Weber added.
Axel Merk, the president and chief investment officer at Merk Investments, a firm based in Palo Alto, Calif., said Trump wants to blame the Fed for what Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase project to be an economic slowdown in 2019, right before his reelection.
“There's no way for the Fed to ‘win’ this,” Merk said. “The Fed will be blamed for a market turning down or for a recession. Trump needs a fall guy, and Powell at the Fed is perfect for that.”
Trump often bragged about the stock markets’ soaring performance in 2017 but has mentioned the markets less frequently this year as they have missed the lofty expectations set by Republicans passing tax reform a year ago.
Mnuchin tried to calm markets over the weekend by tweeting that Trump concedes he doesn’t have the power to fire Powell, but the lack of a similar statement from the president left that assurance ringing hollow.
Trump then went on the attack Monday, tweeting “the only problem our economy has is the Fed.”
“They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders. The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch - he can’t putt!” the president tweeted.
Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, warned Monday that Trump’s war with the Fed is shaking the stock market.
“Investors are increasingly spooked by the president’s wrong-headed attacks on the Fed and the Treasury Secretary’s ham-handed efforts to convince everyone Trump doesn’t mean it and that everything is fine,” he told The Hill.
“Trump’s trade war, his cavalier willingness to shut government down and his broadsides against Fed independence are too much for investors to bear,” Zandi said. “Trump’s misplaced economic policies already had stock investors looking for the door, but given the political chaos he is creating they are now running through it.”
Republican lawmakers want Trump to ease off his criticism of the Fed.
Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) on Sunday called Trump’s comments “unfortunate,” and he defended Powell, who was confirmed by the Senate in January in an 84-13 vote, one of the widest margins for a Trump nominee.
“Chairman Powell is not going to let politics interfere with his decisionmaking process. I happen to think that we owe him a debt of gratitude,” he said, praising the Fed chairman for putting monetary policy “on a path to normalcy.”
Former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE (R-Ala.) on Saturday warned against ousting Powell.
“I’d be very careful doing that,” he said. “The Federal Reserve is set up to be independent.”
Lawmakers are wary of Trump making another unexpected, high-profile personnel decision after he sped up the departure of outgoing Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFormer Defense Secretary Mattis testifies in Theranos CEO trial 20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan MORE to the end of the year, instead of the end of February as Mattis initially announced.
Powell on Wednesday made it a point to say pressure from Trump hasn’t had any effect on Fed policymaking.
“Political considerations have played no role whatsoever in our discussion or decisions about monetary policy,” he told reporters after the Fed announced a quarter-point rate hike, the central bank’s fourth rate increase of the year. “We have the independence, which we think is essential to be able to do our jobs in a nonpolitical way.”
“We at the Fed are absolutely committed to that mission, and nothing will deter us from doing what we think is the right thing to do,” he added.
Those remarks spurred Trump to privately discuss firing Powell, according to Bloomberg and CNN, although experts are mixed on whether he has the authority to dismiss a Fed chairman.
Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, tweeted on Saturday that Trump could fire Fed board members for holding bank stock in index funds under Section 10 of the Federal Reserve Act.
Other finance experts have argued that the law empowers a president to remove a Fed chairman “for cause.”
Mnuchin tried to quash that speculation over the weekend by tweeting that Trump told him that while he disagrees with Fed policy he acknowledged he didn’t have the right to remove him.
That reassurance failed to avert a stock-market rout on Monday, giving Democrats ammo in their fight over border wall funding, which has left some federal departments and agencies shuttered through Christmas.
“It's Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Progressives push for fossil subsidy repeal in spending bill Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill On The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure MORE (Calif.) said in a joint statement. “The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve — after he just fired the Secretary of Defense.”