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Trump expected to nominate Powell for Fed chair

The Senate confirmed Jerome H. Powell as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve on Jan. 23. He replaced Janet L. Yellen, whose term ended in February. (Video: Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

President Trump is expected to nominate Jerome H. Powell as the next chair of the Federal Reserve, according to two people familiar with the president's decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The White House intends to announce the Fed chair selection on Thursday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Powell would begin serving as chair in February, replacing Janet L. Yellen, a Democrat whom Trump has at times praised but many Republicans wanted replaced.

Powell, a Republican, is widely viewed as a safe pick who is unlikely to make any dramatic changes to the Fed's handling of the economy at a time when the stock market is soaring and unemployment is at a 16-year low. Unlike some of the other candidates Trump considered, Powell has been supportive of Yellen's policy of slowly raising interest rates, which have been at historic lows for nearly a decade as the Fed looked to help the economy recover from a massive recession. Trump has expressed interest in keeping rates low as he aims to stimulate the economy and get more Americans higher-paying jobs.

Trump said Friday he has "someone very specific in mind" for the Fed. "It will be a person who, hopefully, will do a fantastic job," Trump said in a short video message posted on Instagram and Twitter.

The Fed operates independently from the White House. Much as with Supreme Court nominees, once Powell is confirmed, Trump will not have any sway over him, making the choice a critical one because the Fed has the power to help stimulate the economy or slow it down if the central bank governors believe the economy is heating up too quickly.

“The chairman of the Federal Reserve has control of the most powerful lever to influence world prosperity," says Gary Richardson, professor of economics at the University of California at Irvine and the former official Fed historian. "If the chair makes good decisions about interest rates, billions of people around the world will be better off. If the chair makes mistakes, he or she can put hundreds of millions of people out of work around the globe."

Powell is no stranger to the Fed and the important role it serves at the heart of the global economy. He's served as a Fed governor, a top leadership role within the central bank, since 2012. He also has deep experience on Wall Street and in Washington. Early in his career, he served as undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury Department for former president George H.W. Bush. Then he became a partner at private equity firm The Carlyle Group, amassing a sizable fortune of between $20 million and $55 million that allowed him to then take a job working for $1 as an expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center after he left the investment firm.

Although Powell has long been a Republican, former colleagues at the Fed and Bipartisan Policy Center describe him as right-leaning but not an ideologue. President Barack Obama originally nominated Powell to the Fed board. Powell studied law at Georgetown University, not economics, but many say he has become well versed in macroeconomics in his time at the Fed.

"When he showed up at the Fed, he basically did not know much about macroeconomics or monetary policy," says Seth Carpenter, chief U.S. economist at UBS who spent 15 years at the Fed, including time overlapping with Powell. "He made a conscious decision to spend a lot of time with staff and colleagues to learn as deeply and completely as possible."

Powell has developed a reputation in Washington as a consensus builder who studies issues extensively before making decisions. He never dissented on any of the Fed's decisions in his time on the board, opting instead to try to work behind the scenes when he felt it was important to sway the course of action.

People familiar with Trump's thinking on selecting Powell who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the president felt Powell would bring stability and continuity to the Fed because so many know him there already, but Powell was also likely to help pull back some regulations on financial institutions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pushed hard for Trump to select Powell after working with him recently to review ways to roll back regulations on financial firms, a goal of the Trump administration. In public speeches, Powell has indicated he thinks that regulations put in place after the financial crisis went too far.

“There is certainly a role for regulation, but regulation should always take into account the impact that it has on markets — a balance that must be constantly weighed. More regulation is not the best answer to every problem,” Powell said at a speech in New York in early October. 

Most on Wall Street welcomed the news that Powell is the likely nominee. Investment bank Deutsche Bank put out a note last week to clients saying Powell would be the best choice if Trump did not want to keep Yellen on. But some liberal groups, including Fed Up, were disappointed, arguing the selection of Powell is an attempt to make the Fed more favorable to big banks.

"Jerome Powell's most important qualification is that he served with Janet Yellen. His confirmation should depend on his willingness to follow in Yellen's footsteps on both monetary and regulatory policy," said Shawn Sebastian, co-director of Fed Up, a campaign from the Center for Popular Democracy.

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