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Fed Chair Powell: 'The law is clear,' Trump can't fire me

Key Points
  • While continuing to avoid direct comment on the president's withering criticism of central bank interest rate policy, Powell tells "60 Minutes" that Trump can't remove him from office.
  • The president has said the Fed's interest rate hikes are the biggest threat to economic growth.
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Here are the top takeaways Fed Chair Powell's 60 Minutes interview

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in an interview aired Sunday that he does not think he can be fired by President Donald Trump.

While continuing to avoid direct comment on the president's withering criticism of central bank interest rate policy, Powell told CBS' "60 Minutes" that Trump can't remove him from office.

"The law is clear that I have a four-year term, and I fully intend to serve it," Powell told the news magazine show. Asked directly if he thought Trump could fire him, he said, "no."

A series of interest rate hikes in 2018 drew the president's wrath, even though he nominated Powell to the Fed position after choosing not to put up former Chair Janet Yellen for a second term. The Fed under Powell unanimously approved four rate hikes in 2018, continuing a move toward policy normalization that Yellen began in December 2015. Trump has said the rate hikes are the biggest threat to U.S. growth.

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During that period, the U.S. saw its best economic gains in a recovery that began in mid-2009. GDP rose nearly 3 percent for the year, though most economists see that cooling off in the years ahead.

In that regard, Powell reiterated the Fed's recently stated position that it can be patient when it comes to the future path of the policy as it watches the incoming data. Friday's nonfarms payrolls report indicated a gain of just 20,000, helping to ratify concerns that the first quarter will show little, if any, economic growth.

Powell said that the Fed, while likely on hold for a while, will be making its policy decisions based on the data and not on political considerations.

"We are directed to execute policy in a strictly nonpolitical way, serving all Americans, and that's what we do," he said. "We are independent in that sense."

Powell told "60 Minutes" anchor Scott Pelley that he thinks the economy is still strong, though he acknowledged that weakness around the world could start to hit the U.S.

"I would say there's no reason why this economy cannot continue to expand," he said.