WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday, Aug. 9, said he "would love to see" the Federal Reserve dramatically slash interest rates by an entire percentage point, part of an escalating White House campaign to weaken the U.S. dollar in the face of global economic turmoil.
Trump's comments, made to reporters before he traveled to New Jersey, were the second time in two days he has insisted that the central bank should further cut interest rates in a way that he said would help U.S. companies.
"We are being handcuffed by the Federal Reserve," Trump said.
But such broadsides against the central bank, particularly when Trump has said he would prefer the U.S. dollar to weaken, are uncommon and could pose broader risks for the economy. If Trump is successful in weakening the U.S. dollar, it could be very difficult to contain the fallout.
White House officials have becoming increasingly concerned about the economy's performance heading into Trump's reelection, several people briefed on internal discussions said. Business investment contracted in the second quarter of this year, and economists have downgraded their expectations for growth.
The unemployment rate remains low, but the stock market has begun to slip from its highs.
After a slight reduction in interest rates last month, some Fed officials have signaled an openness to more cuts this year but nowhere near the full percentage point Trump requested on Friday.
Trump has said that the strength of the U.S. dollar is making it hard for U.S. companies to sell products overseas.
"As your president, one would think that I would be thrilled with our very strong dollar," Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday. "I am not!"
Some businesses and economists have blamed Trump's trade war with China for weakening the economy, but Trump has attempted to deflect all criticism and place the economy's problems squarely on the central bank.
Trump's criticisms have shifted in recent weeks from persistent complaints about Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to more pointed directives.
Before Trump began doing it last year, it was uncommon for any White House official - let alone the president - to comment on the central bank's monetary policy decisions. Past presidents had tried to shield the Fed from political criticism to preserve its independence. Trump has discarded that tradition, because he believes that past interest rate increases by the central bank squelched an economic rally last year.
"It is so uncommon as to be virtually unheard of until the Trump administration," said Alan Blinder, who is a former Fed vice chairman and was an economic adviser during the Clinton administration.
One of Trump's top trade advisers, Peter Navarro, on Thursday called for the Fed to lower interest rates an additional 1 percentage point so that the U.S.'s monetary policy was more in concert with central banks around the world.
After signaling that he planned to back down from some of his more severe economic threats against China, Trump last week shocked a number of advisers by announcing, in a Twitter post, that he would impose a 10% tariff on $300 billion in Chinese goods beginning in September.
These tariffs would be in addition to the penalties he had already imposed on $250 billion in Chinese goods. Tariffs are a type of tax paid by U.S. importers, though Trump has said the tariffs are effectively being paid by the Chinese because China's currency has weakened in the past year.
The Treasury Department this week labeled China a "currency manipulator," after Trump had preemptively announced it on Twitter.
Some of his advisers quickly tried to clarify that Trump might decide to cancel the tariffs if the Chinese agree to major concessions during negotiations, but the prospects for that have dimmed this week.
Trump on Friday also said the next round of negotiations with the Chinese could be canceled next month.
"They would like to make a deal," Trump said of China. "I'm not ready to make a deal. . . . Right now the talks are scheduled in September . . . whether they are canceled, we'll see."
He also sounded a tough note on Chinese tech company Huawei, saying: "It's much simpler not to do any business with Huawei, so we're not doing business with Huawei. That doesn't mean we won't agree to something if and when we make a trade deal, but we're not going to be doing business with Huawei."
Trump appeared to be saying he would not allow tech companies to restart sales to Huawei, after the U.S. banned those sales in May. Later Friday, a Commerce Department spokesman said the President meant only that the U.S. government wouldn't be buying telecom equipment from Huawei, as mandated by a separate ban.
Trump's remarks created more confusion around Huawei, a global seller of smartphones and telecom network equipment.
The administration has slapped various bans on Huawei, calling it a potential threat to U.S. national security. Officials have said Huawei and the Chinese government could potentially tap into and monitor sensitive U.S. communications through the company's wireless network technology.
But Trump on a few occasions has also suggested Huawei is a bargaining chip in the trade talks, and that the U.S. could ease up on the company as part of a trade deal.
Tech companies are now waiting to see whether the administration will allow them to restart some sales to Huawei. On July 9, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the agency would issue special licenses allowing some companies to begin supplying Huawei again if those sales don't hurt U.S. national security.
Many tech companies have applied for these licenses and have been pushing the Commerce Department to sign them, but lawyers for tech companies say they aren't aware of any yet being granted. The companies have argued they should be allowed to sell software and chips for Huawei smartphones and consumer technology, even if the White House is intent on continuing to block export of supplies Huawei uses to manufacture 5G wireless equipment.
In an effort to protect its smartphone and device sales from the possible long-term loss of Google's Android operating software, Huawei on Friday unveiled its own operating system, HarmonyOS. Huawei said it would first launch the software in the Chinese market, and later expand it internationally.
Huawei said it will release Harmony as open-source software, allowing developers to create apps for it. Analysts have said a Huawei operating system would have a tough time competing globally with Google and its popular Gmail and Chrome apps.
This article was written by Damian Paletta and Jeanne Whalen, reporters for The Washington Post.