Can Trump fire Fed chairman Powell?
Donald Trump has expressed a desire to fire Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell over recent weeks because of a raising of interest rates by the Fed.
Those increases have led to a big sell off in the stock market, with the Dow dropping 7% this week alone. For the year, the Dow is down 10%, coming off record highs during Trump's first year in office.
The president nominates the Fed chairman and the Board of Governors, but can he fire him?
While the president appoints the Fed's board of governors, including the chairman, the central bank "derives its authority from the Congress, which created the System in 1913 with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act," according to the Fed's website.
"The Board reports to and is directly accountable to the Congress but, unlike many other public agencies, it is not funded by congressional appropriations," the site says
"The President can nominate a chair but once the chair is confirmed, the president is out of it and the only way you can remove a chair from office is literally if they broke the law. Congress will have to find a cause to remove them from office through a vote and a procedure," Ellen Zentner, Morgan Stanley's chief U.S. economist, told CNBC in October.
But Trump has already broken with precedent through his repeated criticism in the second half of this year of the Fed and the chairman to the press and via Twitter, including this week before the central bank hiked rates. Other presidents privately tried to influence the Fed, but none did so in such a public and forceful matter.
Past presidents have sometimes expressed frustration and concern over the Fed's monetary policies. Has Trump been more "forceful" in his statements? Trump is not the most circumspect of presidents, so while it's probably true, the question is, do the president's complaints matter? As an independent body, the Federal Reserve is not supposed to be swayed by politics. The Fed was set up that way to immunize them from the fickle winds of partisanship. But these guys read the newspapers the same as everyone else and it's hard to imagine the Fed being oblivious to political winds.
As to whether Trump can actually fire Powell, he can't. It's not even clear how Congress would go about getting rid of a Fed chairman because it's never been done before and there's no procedure to do it. Barring some exposure of criminal activity by Powell, his job is secure.
Some analysts are asking what the fallout would be if Trump tried to fire Powell:
The independence of the Fed is one of the pillars of confidence global investors have in the U.S. financial system. Powell's removal would undermine that confidence because it would now seem the most important central bank was now under the control of a politician, who may not always have the best interests of the economy at heart. Sometimes it's necessary to raise interest rates to keep inflation in check. The Fed has a dual mandate: to maximize employment and stabilize inflation.
After Trump first began his criticism of the Fed in July, former Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told CNBC the president was out of line.
"One of the hallmarks of our great American economy is preserving the independence of the Federal Reserve. No president should interfere with the workings of the Fed," Fisher said. "Were I Chairman Powell, I would ignore the president and do my job and I am confident he will do just that."
As the economy heats up under Trump, it was inevitable that interest rates, which stood at close to 0% for nearly a decade, would rise in order to keep inflation at bay. At this, the Fed has been successful. Trump should leave well enough alone and accept the usual ups and downs of the stock market. Chances are, by the time election day 2020 rolls around, the market will have recovered.