Trump administration downplays reports Cohn mulling exit

The Trump administration is downplaying reports that White House chief economist Gary Cohn is planning to leave the West Wing because of frustrations over the implementation of steel and aluminum tariffs.

After President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports last week, one person familiar with Cohn’s thinking described him as furious at the trade moves, which — aside from the economic consequences — left him feeling like he’s lost influence with the president.

Peter Navarro, the director of the White House National Trade Council, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Cohn “was in great spirits” when he met with him and the president on Thursday. However, Navarro didn’t dispute that Cohn could be mulling an exit.

“Gary and I basically have very differing opinions,” said Navarro, who expressed strong support for the tariffs. “The president loves that. He wants to hear all sides of the argument. So, he’s a valued member of the team. And it’s up to Gary whether he goes or stays, but I like working with the guy.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on ABC’s “This Week” that Cohn “is certainly not going to walk out.”

“He’s been a big participant of the interagency process that came to this conclusion,” Ross said. “The president likes to hear every side of every argument. That way he’s sure he’s gotten all points of view. We’ve had lively discussion.”

Cohn doesn’t appear to be leaving the administration imminently since there’s still a chance the tariffs could ultimately fail to materialize. But after months of speculation about his departure, he appears ready to pull the exit slide, the person close to him said.

Cohn’s reported unease with the tariffs decision comes amid a tumultuous week at the White House in which senior adviser Jared Kushner saw his security clearance downgraded, communications director Hope Hicks announced her resignation, and Trump weathered criticism from U.S. allies on his tariff move and from some his own party on both that and his statements on guns.

Cohn was on the brink of resigning last summer after Trump’s likened white supremacists to counterprotesters after deadly clashes between the groups in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Cohn, a high-profile Jewish member of the administration and former Goldman Sachs executive, said Trump’s handling of the Charlottesville violence and protests caused him “distress.” He said the administration “can and must do better” to condemn hate groups.