Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said the White House botched the nomination for Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s successor by allowing an unprecedented public debate over who would be the best choice.
“The White House has mishandled this terribly,” Fisher said today in response to a question from the audience after giving a speech in San Antonio, Texas. “This should not be a public debate,” he said, adding that the Fed “must never be a political instrument.”
Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, citing a possible “acrimonious” confirmation process, withdrew his name from consideration for the post this month in the face of opposition from several members of the Senate Banking Committee. President Barack Obama has no plans to name a nominee this week, according to a person familiar with administration deliberations.
Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen is the leading candidate to replace Bernanke when his term expires on Jan. 31, according to people familiar with White House discussions. She has been picking up support from Democratic senators and party leaders including former President Bill Clinton.
Yellen would be an “excellent choice,” Senator Charles Schumer, the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat and a senior member of the Banking Committee, said this month. “Now that Summers has pulled out, I think the president should choose Yellen.”
White House officials made calls last week to influential senators to encourage them to voice support for a Yellen nomination to head off any attacks on her before Obama announces a decision. The Fed nomination is subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.
In June, Obama said in an interview with Charlie Rose that Bernanke, whose second term expires on Jan. 31, has stayed at the central bank “longer than he wanted.” Bernanke declined to talk about his plans for the future in a press conference last week, saying he’ll have more information to share “at some reasonably soon date.”
Criticism of Summers prompted efforts by Obama to defend him. Summers’s history as an advocate of deregulation and his comments -- while he was president of Harvard University -- about whether women were naturally inclined to excel in the sciences made him a target among Democratic lawmakers.
Summers advised Obama prior to the 2008 presidential election on how to handle the financial crisis, and served as Obama’s top economic adviser from 2009 until 2010. He was Treasury secretary from July 1999 to January 2001.
“The perception that Mr. Summers might have an inside track simply had to do with a bunch of attacks that I was hearing on Mr. Summers pre-emptively, which is sort of a standard Washington exercise that I don’t like,” Obama said at a White House news conference on Aug. 9. “I tend to defend folks who I think have done a good job and don’t deserve attacks.”
Yellen “would make a great chairperson,” Fisher said, adding that he and Yellen “differ on policy.”
The scrutiny of candidates has been “denigrating” for both Summers and Yellen, who would be the first female Fed chairman if nominated and confirmed, Fisher said. The White House should handle future nominations “with more grace,” he said.
Twenty U.S. senators, 19 Democrats and one independent, signed a letter in July supporting Yellen.