The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s Fed chair choice largely down to Powell or Taylor

President Trump (Alex Brandon/AP)

President Trump has largely settled on nominating either former investment banker Jerome “Jay” Powell or Stanford University economist John Taylor to be chairman of the Federal Reserve, three people briefed on the process said, setting the stage for what could be one of the most consequential economic decisions of his administration.

These two men could have much different approaches to running the U.S. central bank, which sets the direction for interest rates and also plays a lead role in financial regulation.

The three people confirming that Powell and Taylor are now the front-runners spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the internal deliberations publicly.

Trump is well-known, though, for changing his mind on nominations late in the process, and several people warned that a final decision had not yet been made.

But the emergence of Powell and Taylor as Trump’s two favorites puts the selection into much clearer focus, a decision that could have major implications for both the economy and the Fed.

Powell is a Fed governor who has supported current chair Janet L. Yellen’s cautious pace of raising interest rates.

Taylor, a conservative economist, beloved by congressional Republicans for years, is considered more hawkish on fighting inflation, and many economists believe he would move more quickly to raise interest rates than Powell.

He has also criticized Yellen for going too far in trying to help stimulate the economy, warning that it could lead to out-of-control inflation that the United States saw in the 1970s and early 1980s.

In addition to his years at Stanford, Taylor held a senior role in the Treasury Department during the George W. Bush administration, focused on international affairs. He was also an economic adviser during the George H.W. Bush administration and served at the White House during the Carter and Ford administrations.

Trump has said he likes having low interest rates, though, and it’s unclear if this might ultimately doom Taylor’s chances. Vice President Pence has told White House officials that Taylor is an excellent economist and sat in on his interview with Trump.

Trump could make his decision as soon as next week. Yellen’s term ends in early February, and the Fed chairman must be confirmed by the Senate.

Trump recently met with Yellen about the prospect of renominating her to a four-year term at the Fed, and he has praised her approach to running the central bank. But in a recent interview with Fox Business, he suggested he was looking for someone new at the helm.

“I have to say you’d like to make your own mark,” he said when discussing the prospect of renominating Yellen.

The U.S. economy is gaining strength, with a recent surge in the stock market, low inflation and low unemployment. Wages have lagged though, fueling frustration among many Americans who feel they have been left behind by the recent economic recovery.

The next Fed chairman will have to decide how aggressively to raise interest rates, how tightly to retain supervision of banks, and how best to prevent the next financial crisis.

Powell has served as a Fed governor for five years, but previously worked at a Washington think tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center, the investment firm Carlyle Group, and held senior roles in the Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. He has earned the respect of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Mnuchin is playing a central role in the selection process.

The Fed chairman and the treasury secretary traditionally meet almost weekly on a range of issues and work very closely on monitoring financial markets and setting regulatory policy.

Powell has a law degree, however, and isn’t a PhD economist, which is unusual for someone selected to lead the U.S. central bank.

Deutsche Bank economists on Monday wrote in a research note that they would prefer Trump pick Powell over Taylor, saying “he would provide the highest degree of continuity to current policy. As such, markets should take a Powell announcement largely in stride, keeping financial conditions easy and providing little disruption to an economy that is experiencing solid growth.”

But Republicans have long pushed for a major shake-up at the Fed, complaining that the central bank plays too much of an activist role in setting policy at the risk of distorting markets and the economy. Such a sentiment, if endorsed by Trump, could give Taylor an edge. But if Trump decides he doesn’t want to risk the recent economic gains, he could opt to nominate Powell.