Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell emphasized the central bank’s independence in a speech on Tuesday, sending a reminder that he and his colleagues answer to Congress as President Trump carries on his campaign of criticizing Fed policy.
“The Fed is insulated from short-term political pressures — what is often referred to as our ‘independence,’’’ Mr. Powell said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “Congress chose to insulate the Fed this way because it had seen the damage that often arises when policy bends to short-term political interests.”
As part of that independence, the central bank is obligated to explain clearly what it is doing and why, Mr. Powell said. He raised the topic in the context of the Federal Reserve Board’s ongoing yearlong review of its policy tools and communications. Still, the remark sends a quiet message that the central bank does not plan to bow to the White House.
Mr. Trump has been jawboning the Fed to cut rates and stop shrinking the large portfolio of government bonds that it amassed as it tried to shore up the American economy in the wake of the financial crisis. Mr. Trump on Monday tweeted that the Fed “blew it” by increasing rates last year and has even toyed with the idea of demoting Mr. Powell to the role of governor, according to news reports. Mr. Trump has alternately implied that such a move depends on Mr. Powell’s actions and denied suggesting a demotion. But Mr. Trump said he believes he has the legal authority to do so if he chooses, though his authority is unclear.
Mr. Trump’s attacks have persisted even as the central bank considers cutting rates for the first time since 2008. Seven Fed officials have penciled in a decrease of 0.5 percentage points by the end of the year, and one official expects a 0.25-point move, based on the Federal Reserve’s summary of economic projections, which were released following its June meeting.
Mr. Powell reiterated a cautious stance on Tuesday, saying the Fed must look carefully at how certain factors are affecting the United States economy — in particular Mr. Trump’s trade war with China — before deciding whether to cut rates.
Economic “crosscurrents have re-emerged, with apparent progress on trade turning to greater uncertainty and with incoming data raising renewed concerns about the strength of the global economy,” he said. “The question my colleagues and I are grappling with is whether these uncertainties will continue to weigh on the outlook and thus call for additional policy accommodation.”
Mr. Powell repeated that Fed officials “will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.” Mr. Powell was speaking at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, where he was interviewed by Neil Irwin, a senior economics correspondent with The New York Times.
Growth abroad has shown signs of stalling, raising risks to the United States economic outlook. Manufacturing is slowing across economies in Europe and Asia, uncertainty indexes are rising and confidence is wobbling as trade drops off. That pullback owes partly to the ongoing tariff war between the United States and China, which could arrive at a turning point this week, when Mr. Trump is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Japan.
The United States has slapped tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods already, and Mr. Trump has threatened to extend them to another $300 billion of goods — practically all remaining imports from China — if the two nations can’t reach an agreement. This would be the first meeting between the two leaders since talks broke off in May.