Fed chief basks in bipartisan praise as lawmakers dismiss Trump attacks

Fed chief basks in bipartisan praise as lawmakers dismiss Trump attacks
© Greg Nash

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell found a safe harbor on Capitol Hill from President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE’s blistering attacks on the central bank and its chief. 

In back-to-back appearances before congressional committees Wednesday and Thursday, Powell won praise from lawmakers in both parties amid Trump’s escalating criticism and threats over his job.

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Powell, a Republican first appointed to the Fed by former President Obama in 2012, enjoyed wide bipartisan support when Trump tapped him to lead the central bank in 2017. The president has since soured on his hand-picked Fed chairman, accusing Powell of restraining the economy and impeding his trade agenda. 

Republicans have been loathe to denounce Trump as he rips Powell and pressures the Fed to cut interest rates. While few GOP lawmakers endorse Trump’s attacks, most have accepted or defended the president’s right to criticize the central bank. 

But Powell himself enjoyed an impressive amount of bipartisan support at his Wednesday and Thursday appearances before the House Financial Services and Senate Banking committees respectively.

Lawmakers hailed Powell for leading the central bank with transparency and integrity, fending off Trump’s claims that “we don't have a Fed that knows what they're doing.”

“You've done an outstanding job,” said Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.), one of the fiercest critics of the Fed’s post-crisis monetary policy. “You were able to normalize from this very strange experiment, and here we are with some terrific consequences.”

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezKasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage MORE (N.J.), a senior Banking Committee Democrat, praised Powell for rebuffing Trump’s repeated insistence that he can fire the chairman, even though legal experts and Fed watchers disagree. 

“I don't always think the Fed gets things right. But our system is infinitely superior to one where the president dictates interest rates, especially when we're heading into elections,” Menendez said. “I think I speak for all of my colleagues and I say that we applaud your efforts to keep the Federal Reserve as an independent and nonpartisan institution.”

Powell faces a careful balancing act as he and the Fed seek to extended a record-breaking stretch of economic growth: making the case for a potential interest rate cut while asserting the bank's independence from Trump.

Trump has called on the Fed to cut interest rates and bashed the bank for hiking them four times in 2018. 

“We're paying a lot of interest and it's unnecessary, but we don't have a Fed that knows what they're doing,” Trump said Friday. 

Powell has largely waived off Trump’s attacks while insisting he would not vacate the chairmanship if the president tried to fire him or demote him. His resilience won him accolades from lawmakers, even those who spar with Powell on policy.

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersPelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief Omar invokes father's death from coronavirus in reaction to Woodward book Business groups increasingly worried about death of filibuster MORE (D-Calif.), chairwoman of Financial Services Committee, set the tone Wednesday when she asked Powell what he would do if Trump told him to step down.

After Powell responded, “Of course, I would not do that,” Waters jokingly replied, “I can’t hear you,” sparking laughter in the committee room and drawing a grin from the often stoic Fed chairman.

“The law clearly gives me a four-year term and I fully intended to serve it,” Powell added.

“I hope everybody heard that,” Waters responded. 

The next day, Toomey praised Powell for saying he won’t leave the Fed until his term runs out, even as Trump floats firing him.

“I'm glad to hear that that's your conclusion, in part because I do think it's important that the Fed remain insulated from political pressure,” Toomey said before praising Powell’s efforts to bring near-zero interest rates toward a neutral level.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerIntelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats MORE (D-Va.), a leading Banking panel moderate, said he was “proud” to be one of the 84 senators who voted to confirm Powell as chairman in January 2018.

And Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP eyes early exit Dems discussing government funding bill into February GOP short of votes on Trump's controversial Fed pick MORE (R-Ala.) praised Powell for his “work to keep the Federal Reserve independent of both parties.”

“We salute you for that,” Shelby added. 

Powell’s bipartisan appeal is largely due to his frequent visits to Capitol Hill and his open lines of communication. Lawmakers often say Powell meets with them far more frequently than his predecessors did, and analyses of his schedules back up that conclusion.

Powell can often be spotted darting between meetings in the House and Senate, accompanied by a phalanx of security and a thick binder. A former Treasury Department official, Powell is familiar with garnering congressional support and pledged to wear Capitol carpets thin by meeting with lawmakers.

Powell’s moderate stances and unique position as an appointee of both Obama and Trump have helped endear him to a wide swath of lawmakers. 

Powell voted lockstep with his Democratic predecessor, former Fed Chair Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenFed formally adopts new approach to balance inflation, unemployment Federal Reserve chief to outline plans for inflation, economy The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - First lady casts Trump as fighter for the 'forgotten' MORE, to maintain low interest rates far later than many Republicans would have preferred. But he also supports easing some Dodd-Frank financial regulations, a long-time Republican goal fiercely opposed by many Democrats.

"You made a commitment to me that you would realize this job and role required an independent Fed chair that would not be subject to political lobbying and haranguing,” Warner said. 

“I think you’ve stuck to your guns so far, but I want you to keep sticking to your guns.”