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Flashback: How Trump changed his tune about Fed chair Powell

US President Donald Trump shakes hands as he announces his nominee for Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC,
Trump and Powell in November 2017. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump has publicly criticized Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell six times for raising interest rates.

Flashback: Nearly one year ago, Trump struck a very different tone when nominating Powell:

"If we are to sustain all of this tremendous economic progress, our economy requires sound monetary policy ... That is why we need strong, sound, and steady leadership at the United States Federal Reserve. I have nominated Jay [Powell] to be our next Federal [Reserve] Chairman ... because he will provide exactly that type of leadership."

What's changed since then is that the Fed hiked interest rates, but Trump had to see it coming.

  • When Powell was confirmed by the Senate, the Fed had already upped rates five times since 2015.
  • Even before Powell officially took office, central bankers had indicated more hikes were coming.

Then-candidate Trump criticized prior Fed chair Janet Yellen for not raising rates.

  • In a 2016 CNBC interview, Trump accused Yellen of being politically motivated, keeping interest rates too low for too long, and creating a "false stock market."
  • Now Trump blames the Powell Fed‘s rate hikes for market volatility, even though rates still remain very low by historical standards.

The bottom line: Trump does not plan to stop criticizing Powell, as Axios’ Jonathan Swan reported, but he's walking into a lose-lose. Either the Fed will continue to raise rates, thus reaffirming its independence from the White House, or it will slow those raises because it believes the economy is slowing down.

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