President Donald Trump has told confidants as recently as Wednesday that he believes he has the authority to replace Jerome Powell as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, according to people familiar with the matter.
In Trump’s line of thinking, he could demote Powell to be a board governor, but isn’t planning to do so right now, the people added.
Their account of the president’s conversations emerged just hours after Powell said he intends to serve his full four-year term despite Trump’s continuing criticism of Fed policy. Earlier this year, Trump asked White House lawyers to explore options for removing him, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.
The people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations, said Trump’s frustration with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is limited to his recommendation to pick Powell as Fed chair. Mnuchin is otherwise in good standing with the president, they said.
Trump’s attacks on the Fed are a departure from almost three decades of caution in the White House about making public comments on monetary policy, out of respect for the independence of the central bank.
It’s typical for administration appointees to step down if they lose the president’s confidence, but the Fed is different. The central bank has a long tradition of being accountable to Congress, not the White House.
“I think the law is clear that I have a four-year term, and I fully intend to serve it,” Powell said at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday after policy makers met to discuss interest rates. They left the benchmark rate unchanged, while opening the door to a rate cut later this year.
White House lawyers think there is a way to follow through with a demotion if that’s what the president wants, but there has been some disagreement in the Counsel’s office, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Asked about the president’s belief that he could demote Powell, a White House spokesman declined to comment on a decision that was not currently being carried out.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow also declined to comment while at an event Wednesday for the economist Arthur Laffer, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.