President Spoke With Fed Chairman Amid Public Campaign for Lower Rates

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06/07/2019 | 08:27 pm


By Nick Timiraos



WASHINGTON -- President Trump spoke with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell by phone in April during a period in which the White House escalated pressure on the central bank to keep interest rates low.



The central bank disclosed the April 11 call on Friday as part of its regular release of Mr. Powell's calendar.



The calendar only reveals the date and time of the call, and nothing about its substance. Spokesmen for the Fed and the White House declined to comment.



Mr. Trump has been a critic of the Fed's interest-rate decisions and beginning in March, the White House called on the central bank to lower its short-term benchmark rate, currently in a range between 2.25% and 2.5%.



Mr. Powell's public calendar shows the two men spoke for around five minutes at 9 p.m. The call occurred shortly after Mr. Powell addressed House Democrats at their annual retreat in Leesburg, Va., where he defended the central bank's independence and declined to say anything about Mr. Trump.



Mr. Powell conveyed that the Fed is "nonpartisan and unswayed by political pressure," said Rep. Jim Himes (D., Conn.), also a member of the Financial Services Committee.



Mr. Trump called Mr. Powell during a period in which the president had announced plans to nominate two supporters to the central bank's seven-member board.



Mr. Trump later said that his preferred picks, former campaign adviser Stephen Moore and former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, were withdrawing from consideration after Republican senators signaled the men lacked sufficient support to win Senate confirmation.



A few days before the call took place, Mr. Trump told reporters that the central bank "really slowed us down" by raising interest rates four times last year. The moves weren't needed, he added, because there is "very little if any inflation." He said, "I think they should drop rates."



Minutes of the Federal Reserve's March meeting released on April 10 suggested the central bank had set a high bar for raising rates again because of greater risks to the U.S. economy from a global growth slowdown.



It has been customary in recent decades for Fed chairs to meet on occasion with the president, but it is less common for them to speak regularly by phone. Mr. Trump had previously called Mr. Powell by phone on March 8, and they dined together at the White House on Feb. 4 with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida.



Fed officials have studiously defended their independence to set monetary policy in keeping with long-run economic goals of boosting employment while maintaining stable inflation. Mr. Powell repeatedly has said political considerations don't factor into rate policy decisions.



Mr. Powell's calendar shows he met with five senators and two members of Congress in April, continuing the Fed leader's extensive outreach on Capitol Hill. He met with Mr. Mnuchin three times; both men have a standing weekly meeting.



Mr. Powell also met in April with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, National Economic Council Director Lawrence Kudlow and Gen. Paul Nakasone, the director of the National Security Agency.



Write to Nick Timiraos at nick.timiraos@wsj.com





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