Fed chief Powell says he won't resign if Trump asks

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Friday he would not resign from the central bank if President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE asked him to step down.

In a public interview at an economics conference, Powell said “no” when asked if he would leave the Fed if Trump sought to replace him. The chairman also said he hadn’t received any direct communication from the president or White House, but stressed that the Fed would not be influenced by politics.

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“People should know the Fed has a very strong culture around nonpolitical activity,” said Powell in a joint interview with his predecessors, Ben Bernanke and Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenThink of this economy as an elderly friend: Old age means coming death On The Money: Rising recession fears pose risk for Trump | Stocks suffer worst losses of 2019 | Trump blames 'clueless' Fed for economic worries Recession fears surge as stock markets plunge MORE.

“It’s very much in the DNA of anyone who has spent any time at the Fed.”

Trump has blasted Powell and the Fed for gradually raising interest rates throughout his first two years in office. The president has reportedly mulled firing or replacing Powell, though it’s unclear if he has the power to do that.

Powell has brushed aside Trump’s complaints and insisted the Fed would continue to move rates in response to data, not the president’s attacks. The Fed has raised interest rates nine times since 2015, seven times under Trump and four times since Powell took over the Fed in February 2018.

While most Republicans approve of the Fed’s efforts to raise borrowing costs, Trump has called on the central bank to maintain low, stimulatory interest rates despite the relatively strong economy.

Rising interest rates have also played a minor role in the sharp stock market downturn that began in the second half of 2018. Trump has blamed the Fed, Democrats and an unspecified “glitch” on the brutal stock losses, but analysts attribute the sell-off to damage from trade tensions and fears of an impending economic slowdown.

The Fed is projecting two further rate hikes in 2019, but Powell said Friday that the bank “will be prepared to adjust policy quickly and flexibly.”

“The markets are pricing in downside risks ... obviously well ahead of the data,” Powell said, citing Friday’s impressive December employment report, which showed a monthly gain of 312,000 jobs.

Powell said the Fed is “listening sensitively to the message that markets are sending,” but would consider the “difference between strong data and financial markets signaling concern and downside risk.”