The chairman of the Federal Reserve and the president of the United States met or talked about once a month between February and April, according to scheduling records released Friday by the central bank.
The details of the April calendar for Fed Chairman Jerome H. (“Jay”) Powell, released Friday, show that Powell and President Donald Trump had a phone call April 11 at 9 a.m. The call, the schedule states, lasted until 9:05. According to the Wall Street Journal (which first reported the details), Powell was attending a conference in Leesburg, Va., with House Democrats at the time of the call.
The April schedule was released as per Fed custom of making public the chairman’s schedule about one month following. Trump has been a strong and recurring critic of the Fed’s actions on interest rates.
Powell’s schedule for March, released last month, showed an “unscheduled” phone call between Powell and Trump March 8 at 3 p.m. PT, also lasting for about five minutes. Powell, at the time, was in Palo Alto, Calif., at Stanford University.
On Feb. 4, the central bank board chairman and Trump had dinner together at the White House. In a press release following that dinner, Powell said he told Trump that the Fed will not consider politics in its setting of monetary policy via the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).
That dinner was the first reported meeting of the president and the Fed chairman since Powell was sworn in to his post, one year ago almost to the day.
Shortly after that, on Feb. 7, Powell voiced a strong defense of Fed independence. At a Town Hall with teachers (that was video-streamed nationwide), in a nearly five-minute response to the first teacher question posed to him – asking “what is it that you do at the Fed?” – Powell said at least five times that the Fed acts in a “non-political” way (or a variation of that phrase) in carrying out its actions to achieve its dual mandate of price stability and full employment.
In asserting that the Fed works in a “non-political” way, Powell noted the central bank has “precious independence from political concerns” and that it does things “on a non-political basis.” He also pointed out that the board’s governors are “directed to carry out our work in a non-political way.”
He also said that the Fed has accountability to the public, as the other side of its role in being non-political. “Our accountability runs through Congress,” Powell said, noting that he has frequent meetings with lawmakers.
One of the key roles of the board and the Fed at large, he said, is to “try earn and deserve the trust of the American people for our institution.”
But Powell seemed to alter his approach slightly in a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee later that month. During the Feb. 26 hearing, in an exchange with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Powell for the first time seemed to acknowledge that he has had communications with the White House over monetary policy (in the past, he had consistently answered “no” when asked the question).
At that hearing, after a long pause in response to Schatz’ question whether the White House has ever communicated with him about rates, Powell said that it was probably not appropriate for him to comment on conversations with other government officials.