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Trump tried to pressure Fed Chair Powell on coronavirus response: Washington Post

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – President Donald Trump this week tried to get Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to push Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell to do more to boost the economy and stem the stock market’s decline, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The president’s latest attempt to get the U.S. central bank to do his bidding came during what the Post described as an “explosive tirade” at a Monday meeting in the Oval Office, citing three unnamed White House officials and one unnamed senior Republican.

U.S stocks have led a global decline over the past week and half as the coronavirus spread from China to the rest of the world in what the World Health Organization on Wednesday termed a pandemic. Investors are increasingly worried that measures taken to stop the spread, including the unprecedented lockdown of millions of people in China and Italy, could help drive the world into recession.

The Fed slashed rates last Tuesday to help the economy and bolster household and business confidence, and is expected to do so again next week at its regularly scheduled policy-setting meeting.

As markets have dropped, Trump has told several people close to him that he would like to remove Powell from office, the Post report said. It is unclear if the president has the legal authority to do so, and Powell has said he will serve his full four-year term, which ends in 2022.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Powell for keeping interest rates too high, even as the Fed last year cut rates three times, blaming the Fed’s policy for holding back economic growth. Last June, Trump said he had the “right to fire” Powell, and in August Trump said he would not try to stop Powell if he offered to resign.

The Fed guards its political independence closely, and officials consider its ability to set rates without fear of reprisal or influence from the administration or Congress as key to its credibility and effectiveness.

Trump was set to address the nation on the coronavirus Wednesday evening.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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