Federal Reserve Chairman-nominee Jerome Powell’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee was anything but a lovefest.
Both Republicans and Democratic senators seemed to go out of their way Tuesday to keep Powell at arm’s length despite general agreement that he is a shoe-in for the job as America’s top central banker.
Read: Recap of live blog of Powell’s confirmation hearing
For their part, Senate Republicans often asked the nominee tough, curt questions and sometimes interrupted his answers.
“Why as a [Fed] governor have you repeatedly voted to punish [community banks] and regulate them half to death?” asked Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, in perhaps the harshest instance.
Powell tried to take in all in good humor.
“I guess I would quibble with that characterization of my votes and the things we’ve done,” Powell told Kennedy.
In 2012 and 2014, many Republicans voted against Powell’s nomination as governor on the Fed board.
Now, Republicans in the upper chamber say they are prepared to go along with President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Powell for Fed chairman. But they seemed to draw the line at offering much praise.
“What I am trying to do is to try to figure out how to get to ‘yes’ on your nomination this time,” said Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada.
For their part, Senate Democrats, who had voted in large numbers for Powell in 2012 and 2014, seemed worried to be turning over the keys to the central bank to him. They expressed concern that the banking industry would be able under Powell’s watch to sneak out from under new regulations and get back to their old tricks that led to the 2008 financial crisis.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat from Massachusetts, said that the biggest challenge facing the nation can’t be that rules on Wall Street banks are too tough. Surely not all rules need to be eased and some should be strengthened, she asked Powell.
After Powell replied that he thought the rules on big banks were “tough enough,” Warren shook her head.
“I’ve got to say this worries me,” she said.
Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, noted many measures show the banking sector is now healthy and asked “what problem are we solving with deregulation” of the industry.
Powell said the many regulations put in place since the crisis were “brand new” and it is time to make sure “that what we did made sense.”
Powell said he thinks the U.S. is in no danger of banks “too big to fail.”
See: Powell says some Wall Street rules too strict
Powell was able to avoid giving his assessment of the Republican tax-cut plan although he was often goaded by Democrats to say it would damage the fiscal outlook.
“You don’t rely on us to score fiscal proposals,” he said.
Read: Fed would respond ‘aggressively’ to Senate tax bill, congressional committee says
In the end, Heller suggested that Powell’s confirmation was a sure bet.
“You’re about to become the most important economic policy maker in the world. How do you feel about that?” Heller asked Powell.
“”I feel fine about it, Senator,” Powell said.