President Trump plans to nominate Christopher Waller and Judy Shelton to fill the two remaining seats on the Federal Reserve Board of governors, the latest push in Trump’s effort to get the central bank to lower interest rates ahead of the 2020 election.
Shelton is a conservative scholar and former adviser to the Trump campaign who told The Washington Post last month that she thinks interest rates should be cut “as expeditiously as possible.” Waller is an economist who currently serves as research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. He rarely speaks publicly, but his boss, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, was the only member of the Fed’s policy-setting committee to vote for an interest rate cut in June.
Trump has lashed out at the Fed for months, claiming the central bank is harming the economy ahead of the 2020 election by keeping interest rates high. Fed leaders have ignored Trump, saying they are doing what is best for the country by raising rates last year and holding them steady so far this year.
Trump’s last four nominees for the Fed board failed to get through the Senate confirmation process as Republicans broke ranks with Trump to kill the nominations.
“I am pleased to announce that it is my intention to nominate Christopher Waller, PhD, Executive VP and Director of Research, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Missouri, to be on the board of the Federal Reserve,” Trump tweeted Tuesday, adding in another tweet that he also plans to nominate Shelton.
Early in his tenure, Trump appointed Shelton the U.S. member of the board of directors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a position that required Senate confirmation. Shelton’s Fed nomination could potentially move faster since she has been vetted before. She holds a PhD in business administration from the University of Utah and was a fellow for many years at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
She has been a strong proponent of returning the United States to the gold standard, which the nation abandoned years ago and many economists think would be a mistake to bring back. During the Great Recession, she criticized the Fed for cutting interest rates to zero and doing so much to stimulate the economy, but now she is in favor of lower rates.
“I am very honored and grateful for the statement from President Trump and will strive to support the U.S. pro-growth economic agenda with the appropriate monetary policy,” Shelton tweeted Tuesday. “Unlimited potential beckons for America and the world.”
Waller earned his PhD in economics from Washington State University and is considered a more typical candidate for a Fed job given his many years as an economics professor and researcher at the central bank. A spokeswoman for the St. Louis Fed said the White House approached Waller about the role in June and that Waller met with the president on Tuesday.
“Waller seems like he’s a perfectly fine candidate. I don’t see anything glaringly wrong with him,” said Tim Duy, a University of Oregon professor and author of the “Fed Watch” blog. “Judy Shelton is more complex. She was adamantly against interest rates at zero during the recession a decade ago, and now she’s for low rates like Trump.”
Interest rates are currently low by historical standards, but they are at the highest level since the financial crisis. Fed leaders argue the economy is healthy and does not need extra stimulus from ultra low interest rates, but Trump blames the Fed for any problems in the economy or markets.
The Fed is widely expected to cut rates in July or September to counterbalance the harm from Trump’s trade war, which has sent business confidence and investment down. But Trump is likely to want even lower rates.
Trump appointed four of the five current Fed governors, including Chair Jerome H. Powell, but the president has said he regrets that move and has looked into demoting Powell, a move that would be legally questionable and likely to cause uproar in the financial markets. Business leaders and investors generally believe the Fed must be independent from politics to make the best decisions for the long-term health of the economy, not the short-term desires of the White House.
While many presidents have wanted lower interest rates ahead of their reelection, none since Reagan has so overtly pressured a Fed board chair to slash rates.
“Despite a Federal Reserve that doesn’t know what it is doing - raised rates far too fast (very low inflation, other parts of world slowing, lowering & easing) & did large scale tightening, $50 Billion/month, we are on course to have one of the best Months of June in U.S. history,” Trump tweeted last month. “Think of what it could have been if the Fed had gotten it right.”
Some economists are concerned that Shelton is too close to Trump and top White House officials, something that could run the danger of compromising the Fed’s independence. But Shelton said she doesn’t talk to Trump and that her views have been out in the open and consistent since the 1980s.
“Even during the campaign I might write a memo or two if they ask my opinion on things, but I’ve always been my own person,” Shelton said in her interview with The Post last month. “I would be following protocol and not talking to anybody ... I believe in transparency at the Fed.”
Waller has been more forceful in defending the Fed, writing in a 2011 paper that “giving the central bank independence is the best method for governments to tie their own hands and prevent them for misusing monetary policy for short-term political reasons.”
The Fed is made up of a seven-member board of governors who are nominated by the president and sit in Washington, and 12 regional bank presidents like Bullard who sit around the country and are appointed by boards in that region.