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Trump picks close ally Stephen Moore for Fed seat as economy shows signs of weakness

President Trump greets supporters upon his arrival in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
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President Trump said Friday that he is picking his close ally Stephen Moore to fill an open seat on the Federal Reserve Board. Trump has repeatedly blamed the Fed for hurting the economy.

Moore was an adviser to Trump’s campaign and published a book “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy,” heralding the president’s tax cuts and deregulation push. Trump and Moore have discussed the Fed in recent weeks, with Moore telling the president that his other Fed nominees were too “conventional” and didn’t understand the president’s economic vision. Moore publicly urged Trump to fire Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell in December, which most experts think isn’t legally possible.

The White House plans to make a formal announcement that Moore is the nominee to fill one of two open Fed seats. Moore, who holds a master’s degree in economics and is a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, would then go through a Senate confirmation process that could take months. His nomination is likely to face opposition from Democrats.

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Moore is widely viewed as the most political nominee to the Fed board since the Reagan era. He published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week titled “The Fed Is a Threat to Growth,” and he has suggested that Trump deserves a Nobel Prize in economics.

“Trump, who is not an economist, has more sense of the economy than these 500 overpaid economists at the Federal Reserve,” Moore told The Post at the end of January.

On Friday, Moore attempted a more conciliatory approach, telling Bloomberg TV that he looks forward to working with Powell and that he called for the Fed chair’s removal in “a time of anger.”

“I really do believe we could have 3 or 4 percent growth for another five or six years,” Moore said Friday. “I know [Powell] wants high growth. He can be a hero if we get our monetary policy right at the same time we have strong pro-growth measures on the fiscal side of the equation.”

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Past presidents have typically nominated to the board PhD economists and longtime bankers, who tended to be centrists. The Fed is an independent agency that is not supposed to be influenced by politics, and there are concerns that Moore would chip away at that independence. The central bank’s primary role is setting the level of interest rates, which influence mortgage and credit card rates, and bank regulation.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin played a heavy role in Trump’s other Fed nominations, and many economists and Wall Street investors welcomed those picks, but Trump began to regret some of his choices and called the Fed “loco” in October.

This time, Trump saw Moore’s Wall Street Journal op-ed and asked Larry Kudlow, head of the National Economic Council, why Moore wasn’t Fed chair. Kudlow said he told the president that the Fed already has a chairman, but Moore would be a “perfect Fed governor.”

“Steve Moore is a brilliant guy. He knows a lot about monetary policy,” Kudlow said. “People who are attacking Steve are attacking him for his beliefs."

Trump has said numerous times that the economy and markets would be in better shape if the Fed had not raised interest rates four times last year, actions meant to keep the economy from overheating and get rates back to a more normal level as the nation recovered from the Great Recession.

“Frankly, if we didn’t have somebody that would raise interest rates and do quantitative tightening, we would have been at over 4 instead of a 3.1,” Trump said in a Fox Business interview Friday.

The president was implying that the pace of growth last year could have been more than 4 percent without the Fed rate hikes, an assertion many independent economists doubt. The official Commerce Department figure is 2.9 percent growth for last year, but an alternative measure of growth used by many economists is that the economy expanded by 3.1 percent in 2018.

The Fed dramatically changed direction this year as growth in China and Europe weakened and the government partially shut down. On Wednesday, the vast majority of Fed leaders indicated that they do not foresee rate hikes this year. It was a big change from December, when many Fed leaders anticipated two more hikes in 2019.

"Growth is slowing somewhat more than expected,” Powell said Wednesday as the Fed cut its growth forecast down to 2.1 percent for this year.

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Powell has remained stoic in the face of Trump’s criticism. He has repeatedly declined to comment on the president but has defended the Fed and its nonpartisan decision-making. He has also forged close ties with members of both parties in Congress.

“It’s very important that the public understand that we are always going to make a decision based on what we think is right for the American people,” Powell said in a recent interview on the CBS program “60 Minutes.”

A number of economists expressed shock that Moore could soon be on the Fed board, which can have as many as seven members.

“This is the first genuinely bad Trump pick for the Fed,” tweeted Justin Wolfers, an economics professor at the University of Michigan. “He hasn’t gotten a thing right in twenty years, (check the record), and the Senate should not confirm him.”

Moore has flip-flopped on his views about the Fed since Trump was elected. When Barack Obama was in office and the country was trying to climb out of the Great Recession, Moore called for tighter monetary policy because he feared hyperinflation from the Fed’s low interest rates at the time.

Once Trump took office, Moore began calling for lower interest rate. The Fed has interest rates at a range of 2.25 to 2.5 percent, the highest level in a decade, but low by historical standards.

Moore has argued that the economy is experiencing deflation, in which prices fall, but the Commerce Department’s inflation metrics show that prices are rising about 1.5 percent a year. He has also called for the Fed to try to intervene to keep commodity prices such as soybeans more stable, even though soybean prices fell sharply last year largely because of Trump’s trade war with China.

If confirmed, Moore would not be able to single-handedly lower interest rates or change other Fed policies. Major Fed decisions are made by a committee of up to 12 members — the seven governors nominated by the White House and five heads of regional Fed banks who are chosen by those communities.

“One voice does not determine Fed decisions,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.