October 24, 2018 / 8:11 PM / 20 days ago

As Trump rails against Fed, Powell takes to Capitol Hill

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell intensified his outreach to U.S. lawmakers over the summer, a review of his public calendar shows, even as President Donald Trump stepped up his attacks on the Fed and on Powell himself.

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before a Senate Banking Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

Powell had at least 33 individual meetings with members of Congress in June, July and August, surpassing the 27 meetings he took in his first four months on the job, monthly calendars posted to the Fed’s website show. All told, he had more than triple the number of meetings with lawmakers in his first seven months compared with his predecessor Janet Yellen.

Most of Powell’s meetings in recent months took place in person on Capitol Hill. Over two particularly intense mid-August days, he met with seven members of the Senate Banking Committee, charged along with the House Financial Services Committee with overseeing the central bank.

Powell met with slightly more Republicans than Democrats, reflecting the overall makeup of Congress

The calendar does not say what was discussed, nor who initiated the meetings, and a Fed spokesman declined to comment. But Powell told Marketplace radio in June he sees “walking those halls” in Congress to meet with lawmakers an important part of his job.

All the more so as Trump lobs increasingly pointed criticism at the Fed and its interest rate increases, which began under Yellen and have continued under Powell, her Trump-appointed successor.

Trump made his first public comments signaling dismay about his pick on July 19, when he told CNBC he was “not thrilled” about the Fed’s rate increases. In August, in an interview with Reuters, he demanded the Fed help out on the economy..

This month he has called the Fed “crazy” and a threat to economic growth. On Tuesday he told the Wall Street Journal he “maybe” regrets appointing Powell.

Orrin Hatch, Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, on Wednesday defended Powell, telling Bloomberg News, “I don’t agree with everything they do but they are still pretty good people.” Hatch is among the members of Congress with whom Powell has met.

Meanwhile, Powell and his colleagues have continued to raise interest rates, and rarely does a week goes by without several Fed policymakers giving public remarks about why rate hikes are necessary in the face of an economy with unemployment at a 49-year low and inflation near the Fed’s 2-percent goal.

Congress mandates the Fed to pursue full employment and stable prices.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester repeated on Wednesday that Trump’s public criticism does not affect policy decisions.

Fed policymakers acknowledge that increasing interest rates even just a few more times will likely slow the economy and increase unemployment, but that, they say, is a reasonable price to pay for keeping inflation contained.

“Everyone should be allowed to criticize us and question whether or not we are undertaking the right actions,” Chicago Federal Reserve bank President Charles Evans said earlier this month. “And that’s where the chairman of the Fed and the rest of us go out in public and talk about just why we undertook these actions, and hopefully people understand that.”

Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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