White House steps up review of Federal Reserve chairman candidates

By The Fed

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, speaks during a meeting with the Republican Study Committee, Friday, March 17, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

President Donald Trump’s top cabinet officials are stepping up their attention to making a decision on who will be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, including Vice President Mike Pence, who met with three free market economists at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the candidates that could replace Janet Yellen. 

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In a sign that Pence may be getting involved with choosing the next Fed chair, the Vice President met with Heritage Foundation economist Steve Moore, conservative economist Larry Kudlow and former President Ronald Reagan economic adviser Art Laffer to converse about a range of topics including who could be the next most effective Fed leader, sources tell FOX Business.

Part of the conversation about the Fed chairmanship with the three outside advisers for the administration involved going through the backgrounds on the list of candidates with Pence, which includes former Federal Reserve governor Kevin Warsh, current Fed governor Jerome Powell, and former Treasury official under President George W. Bush and current Stanford University professor John Taylor, say sources familiar with the meetings.

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn continues to be considered for the post, but his chances have dwindled since he took on Trump for his response to the violence in Charlottesville in an interview with the Financial Times in August.

"As a Jewish-American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting 'Jews will not replace us' to cause this Jew to leave his job. I feel deep empathy for all who have been targeted by these hate groups. We must all unite together against them," Cohn said at the time.

A spokeswoman for Pence declined to comment.  Laffer also declined to comment and Kudlow did not return FOX Business’ emails for comment. When reached by phone on Thursday, Moore did not deny the meeting took place, quickly saying “I can’t talk about that,” and then hung up.

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White House Assistant Press Secretary Natalie Strom declined to confirm who’s being considered for the Fed position, telling FOX Business “we do not discuss rumors on individuals who may or may not be under consideration for positions. When we have an announcement to make we’ll let you know.”

However, Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly addressed the ongoing search for the next Fed leader at the White House press briefing on Thursday, explaining the final decision is “sometime away” and that “all people who have been interviewed have been first round draft choices.” 

There was no clear indication at the meeting which candidate Pence preferred or if he thought Yellen should stay on as the Fed chair, but the timing of Pence’s interest in the selection process may not be a coincidence as Yellen’s term ends in February.

Trump appeared to intensify his search for Fed chair candidates at the end of September when he met with Warsh and Powell for the job, according to administration officials. After meeting with the potential Yellen replacements, Trump told the press that he’s had four meetings to discuss who should lead the Federal Reserve and expected to make a decision in two or three weeks.

Trump interviewed Taylor on Wednesday morning for the Fed's top job, White House officials tell FOX Business.

Warsh served as Fed governor from 2006 to 2011, during the financial crisis, and was an economic adviser to President George W. Bush from 2002 to 2006. He was a member of President Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, which was disbanded in August when the president was accused of not properly addressing the violent racism that took place in Charlottesville. He was also an economic adviser to GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush during the 2016 election.  He’s currently serving as a visiting fellow at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Warsh could be a frontrunner for the job because of his indirect family ties to the president. He’s married to Jane Lauder, the daughter of Trump’s close friend and heir to the Estee Lauder Company (EL) Ronald Lauder.

Powell is a current member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and was a partner at the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm from 1997-2005. He also served as Undersecretary for the United States Treasury under President George H.W. Bush from 1990-1993.

Taylor is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University and served as the Under Secretary for the Treasury during President George W. Bush’s first term. He’s also known for a paper he proposed called the Taylor Rule, which was a recommendation about how nominal interest rates should be determined.

The frontrunner for the position is unclear, but according to sources in Washington D.C. including policy think tanks and lobbyists, Powell is starting to become the favorite to be Trump’s choice.

In a recent note to their clients last week, Beacon Policy Advisors said they believe that Powell will be chosen to replace Yellen because he’s the preferred candidate of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“At the moment, we see that likely candidate being Powell, as he is currently the candidate with the path of least resistance to getting confirmed,” the note said.  “As of now, Powell has yet to receive any notable criticism from major factions of the GOP. The preferred candidate of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is at least ostensibly playing a role in the Fed chair selection, Powell most represents Trump's preferences in a Fed chair. Powell, unlike Warsh or Taylor, believes in a more dovish approach to monetary policy,” the advisory firm added.

A spokeswoman for the Treasury did not return calls for comment at the time of publication.

While Yellen seems to be on the outs as Fed chair, she addressed her future at a press conference in September, telling reporters “I intend to serve out my term as Chair, and that I’m really not going to comment on my intentions beyond that.”

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