President Trump Bashes the Fed. This Is How the Fed Chief Responds.

Jerome Powell’s playbook includes making allies outside the Oval Office, never talking politics and sticking to the economy.

Federal Reserve leaders for the past quarter-century have made decisions about interest rates without being pressured by the president.

President Trump has broken that streak, calling the central bank “crazy” for raising rates and more than once saying the Fed is damaging the economy. That has prompted Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to update playbook rules for dealing with a president annoyed by America’s central bank.

Rule 1: Speak not of Mr. Trump.

Rule 2: When provoked, don’t engage.

Rule 3: Make allies outside the Oval Office.

Rule 4: Talk about the economy, not politics.

.. Mr. Trump blamed the Fed for October’s stock market selloff, calling the central bank “out of control.” The president told The Wall Street Journal Oct. 23 that Mr. Powell seemed to enjoy raising rates.

Not since the 1990s has a president leaned so hard on the Fed chief and never so publicly. On Monday, Mr. Trump told the Journal: “I think the Fed right now is a much bigger problem than China.

.. The Fed’s benchmark interest rate is now in a range between 2% and 2.25%, well below long-run averages. The central bank is expected to raise rates by a quarter-percentage-point at its Dec. 18-19 meeting.

Mr. Powell says he is raising rates to return them to a more normal setting and avoid the type of boom-and-bust economy that ended in past recessions.

.. Mr. Trump has said he doesn’t plan on firing Mr. Powell, and it isn’t clear he could. The Federal Reserve Act states a Fed governor can only be removed for cause, a high bar that courts and legal scholars have interpreted to mean malfeasance or neglect.

.. The Fed’s credibility could suffer

  • if investors believe its commitment to guard against inflation has been compromised by politics, or
  • if Mr. Trump’s attacks sour the public’s view of the central bank.

“At some point, it becomes very damaging to the institution to be perceived as not acting in the best interest of America,” former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said in an interview.

.. Mr. Powell has told others that he knows the president’s criticism could make his life unpleasant, but that he wouldn’t respond to political pressure. People close to Mr. Powell said he understood that history would judge him on policy decisions made over his four-year term.

  • President Lyndon B. Johnson once summoned Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin to his Texas ranch to berate him for raising interest rates, saying it was despicable, according to Mr. Martin’s account.
  • One low point for the central bank came when President Richard Nixon privately pressured Fed Chairman Arthur Burns to keep rates low before the 1972 election, according to Oval Office recordings. Mr. Burns kept rates low and inflation accelerated.

.. Shortly after President Reagan’s inauguration, a White House staffer asked Fed Chairman Paul Volcker if he wanted to host the new president at the Fed. Mr. Volcker declined, but replied he would be happy to meet the president anywhere else. They settled on the Treasury Department as a neutral ground.

Top Reagan administration officials frequently criticized Mr. Volcker, who presided over rate increases that triggered recessions in 1980 and 1981. But President Reagan refrained. “He just never did it,” Mr. Volcker said in an interview last year.

.. President George H.W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady cut off regular breakfasts with Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan to show his disapproval of tight-money policies in 1992. Mr. Brady stopped inviting Mr. Greenspan to dinner parties and golf dates at Augusta National.

One of Mr. Brady’s deputies at the time was Mr. Powell, who served as an appointee in the Treasury’s domestic policy office. Mr. Powell, 65, graduated from Princeton and Georgetown University law school.

.. In 1994, President Clinton was upset that Mr. Greenspan’s rate increases threatened a delicate deficit-reduction plan that Mr. Clinton had guided through Congress.

Mr. Clinton’s unhappiness “never was communicated to me,” said Mr. Greenspan, who added he heard about it much later. Economic adviser Robert Rubin convinced the president it was best to lay off the central bank to show investors that the Fed was apolitical.

.. While Mr. Trump complains loudly, his top economic advisers conduct business as usual with Mr. Powell; that includes Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council director Lawrence Kudlow and Council of Economic Advisers chairman Kevin Hassett.

Mr. Kudlow and Mr. Powell have bonded over their back troubles. Mr. Powell shared the name of his doctor, “who’s been a terrific help to me,” Mr. Kudlow said in an interview. “I’m not kidding.”

.. Before he became chairman, Mr. Powell was the Fed’s point person on bank regulation, just as the Trump administration took shape. That put Mr. Powell in regular contact with Mr. Mnuchin, a newcomer to Washington. Mr. Mnuchin later backed Mr. Powell for the chairman job.

Mr. Trump has since taken out his frustration on Mr. Mnuchin, according to a person familiar with the matter, saying recently, “I thought you told me he was going to be good.

.. After Mr. Trump publicly complained about Mr. Powell this summer, Mr. Mnuchin said in a TV interview that he was “a phenomenal leader at the Fed.”

 .. In fact, Mr. Powell is the kind of Fed leader the White House wants, Mr. Kudlow said, because he is skeptical of traditional economic models that say inflation rises when unemployment falls.

With an unemployment rate of 3.7%, near a half-century low, traditional models suggest the Fed engage in aggressive interest rate increases. Mr. Powell, who isn’t a trained economist, views the models with greater skepticism than some macroeconomists.

.. “Jay is questioning a lot of the traditional Fed dogma with the board staff and their models,” said Mr. Kudlow.

.. Mr. Trump’s economic advisers have helped Mr. Powell cement control of the central bank, securing a cast of Fed deputies and governors who appear to be allies. All three rate increases this year have passed by unanimous vote of the Fed’s rate-setting committee.

.. The president, on the other hand, sees no reason to continue with rate increases because inflation is modest, he has said. He wants rates low to foster fast growth.

.. Several people who know Mr. Trump say his long career in real estate informs his view of rising interest rates, which have put a damper on his businesses. Mr. Trump’s firms sought bankruptcy protection after borrowing costs rose in the early 1990s and in the mid-2000s.

Mr. Trump told the Journal in October the Fed chief has surprised him, because he thought Mr. Powell was a “low interest-rate guy.”

.. Mr. Powell, a Republican and Washington native with a 40-year career spanning government, finance and law, recognizes that Fed authority depends more on Congress than the White House

“Our decisions can’t be reversed by the administration,” Mr. Powell said earlier this month in Dallas. “Of course, Congress can do whatever it wants.”

.. Messrs. Coons and Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) later decided to send Mr. Trump a letter telling him to lay off the Fed.

“You appear to be telling the Fed what to do with interest rates, which we believe is unconstructive and dangerous,” the senators wrote the president.

.. In his new memoir, Mr. Volcker described how White House chief of staff James A. Baker III, with President Reagan watching silently, ordered the Fed chairman not to raise interest rates before the 1984 election.

Mr. Volcker, who wasn’t planning to lift rates anyway, didn’t tell colleagues or lawmakers about the episode. Mr. Baker has said he didn’t recall that.

 

Ignoring the Debt Problem

Our current debt may be manageable at a time of unprecedentedly low interest rates. But if we let our debt grow, and interest rates normalize, the interest burden alone would choke our budget and squeeze out other essential spending. There would be no room for the infrastructure programs and the defense rebuilding that today have wide support.

.. Instead, we’d be dependent on foreign investors’ acquiring most of our debt — making the government dependent on the “kindness of strangers” who may not be so kind as the I.O.U.s mount up.

.. Our health care systems can be made more efficient, with better approaches toward cost control. Since health care represents 70 percent of the growth of our major entitlement programs over the next 30 years, bending the cost curve is essential to the long-term well-being of our economy.

.. Fair and responsible reforms will take years to implement. And businesses and individuals will need time to adjust.

.. Delaying action now will make the needed changes only more painful and difficult later on, while also increasing the risk of financial crisis before the reforms are even made. That is why the real debate should begin immediately.

.. the Clinton campaign said in a statement. “Like Trump’s campaign, this speech gave us a troubling view as to what a Trump State of the Union would sound like — rambling, unfocused, full of conspiracy theories and attacks on the media, and lacking in any real answers for American families.”

.. Mr. Trump has a long history of threatening and occasionally following though on litigation, and it was possible he was simply trying to intimidate more women from coming forward. Another accuser — she would be the 11th — was scheduled to appear later Saturday at a news conference with Gloria Allred