June 25, 2019 / 10:30 PM / 5 months ago

Fed's Bullard says he was approached about possible Fed board seat

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said on Tuesday that he had been approached by the White House about a possible seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, but said he would not consider leaving his current job.

FILE PHOTO: St. Louis Fed President James Bullard speaks about the U.S. economy during an interview in New York February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Bullard said the conversations occurred “in recent months” as President Donald Trump pressed the Fed to reduce interest rates and considered candidates for two open board seats. Bullard has also made the case for lower rates, and at the central bank’s most recent policy meeting earlier this month he dissented from the decision to leave rates unchanged.

“I have been approached on this. I am happy in my current position,” Bullard said in remarks to reporters ahead of an event at the St. Louis Fed. “I think these kinds of discussions are exploratory in nature and it’d be very unclear whether it would go any further.”

Trump has grown increasingly critical of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in recent months, slamming him for steering the Fed to hike interest rate four times last year, which the president says has curbed economic growth and made it harder for him to negotiate a trade deal with China.

But Trump has also struggled to fill two open seats on the Fed’s seven-member board. Fed governors set interest-rate policy along with five of the 12 reserve bank presidents who rotate through voting seats on the central bank’s rate-setting committee; the two appointees on their own would have a limited voice in the matter.

Members of the Board of Governors are appointed by the president and are subject to Senate confirmation. The heads of the 12 regional banks are nominated by the directors of the local Fed boards and require no such confirmation.

Trump hopes to have nominees for the open Board of Governor seats soon, an administration official said on Tuesday.

Bullard, who holds a doctorate in economics, would check a number of boxes for Trump as a candidate whose deep experience in central banking would likely clear the Senate, and who also argued early on that the Fed should stop hiking rates.

Bullard, who currently holds a vote on the Fed’s rate-setting committee, said in comments to reporters that he felt the Fed should make an initial reduction of a quarter of a percentage point at an upcoming meeting, and make a second reduction later in the year. That, he said, would set the stage for an economic “soft landing” and help ensure continued growth into 2020.

“I felt we are a little bit restrictive,” Bullard said. “If you went one move now and another later you would be slightly accommodative and that would shore up” the outlook for inflation and growth.

Trump’s two candidates for the open board seats withdrew from consideration earlier this year, after some Republican senators expressed reservations, indicating that both would likely struggle to win confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Herman Cain, the former head of the Godfather’s Pizza restaurant chain who had made a bid for the presidency in 2012 was a public advocate of many of Trump’s policies, withdrew from consideration in late April. In early May, economics commentator Stephen Moore also withdrew from consideration after weeks of criticism about his political partisanship, shifting views on rate policy and sexist comments about women.

Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Leslie Adler

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