Gary Cohn Resigns as Trump Economic Advisor

The chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors is out after failing to convince the boss not to impose tariffs.

This screenshot from Bloomberg News at 5:57 pm says a lot about the state of the Trump White House:


NYT (“Gary Cohn to Resign as Trump’s Top Economic Adviser“):

Gary D. Cohn, President Trump’s top economic adviser, plans to resign, becoming the latest in a series of high-profile departures from the Trump administration, White House officials said on Tuesday.

The officials insisted there was no single factor behind the departure of Mr. Cohn, who heads the National Economic Council. But his decision to leave came after he seemed poised to lose an internal struggle amid a Wild West-style process over Mr. Trump’s plan to impose large tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

“Gary has been my chief economic adviser and did a superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again,” Mr. Trump said in a statement to The New York Times. “He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people.”

Mr. Cohn is expected to leave in the coming weeks. He will join a string of recent departures by senior White House officials, including Mr. Trump’s communications director and a powerful staff secretary.

In a statement, Mr. Cohn said he had been pleased to work on “pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people, in particular the passage of historic tax reform.” White House officials said that Mr. Cohn was leaving on cordial terms with the president and that they planned to continue discussing policy even after his departure.

The Bloomberg story, posted eight hours earlier, is obviously OBE.  Trump was apparently incorrect.

While there are credible economic analysts who might argue for retaliatory tariffs against China and others for violating their obligations under the WTO, it’s doubtful any would argue for blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum that mainly affect close allies in Canada and Europe. I suppose Cohn was not one of the latter. And, if you can’t persuade the President on something that fundamental, you have no influence.

UPDATE (0547 March 7): More details and analysis are coming in.

Bloomberg (“Trump Confronted Cohn on Trade Hours Before Resignation, Sources Say“):

President Donald Trump demanded economic adviser Gary Cohn’s cooperation on tariffs in a meeting in the Oval Office Tuesday — asking Cohn directly if he would support his decision to move forward with the plan.

Cohn would not offer his support, according to two people familiar with the episode — and just hours later, the White House announced Cohn’s resignation.

In a way, Cohn’s resignation as director of National Economic Council was exactly as Trump had predicted this week, telling associates that he expected Cohn to quit if Trump went ahead with the tariffs. Trump is expected to announce the moves — a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum — as early as this week.

Cohn is a free-trade advocate who vociferously opposed Trump’s plan, so his views were well-known. But the moment in the Oval Office brought the two men — president and adviser — into direct conflict.

Trump, during the trade policy meeting in the Oval Office Tuesday, asked for an update on the legal paperwork that will make the tariffs official and discussed the timing of the signing of the tariffs order. He then sought confirmation that everyone — and especially Cohn — was willing to stand behind him.

According to one source with knowledge of the exchange, Trump specifically asked Cohn: We’re all on the same team, right? He then asked if Cohn was going to support the president on the issue.

Cohn didn’t answer, the people said.

A source familiar with Cohn’s thinkng disputed that Trump demanded loyalty on tariffs in the meeting or asked Cohn to change his mind.

This person also said that Cohn even agreed with Trump on the need for a tougher stance on China. but that any metals tariffs that also hit Canada, Mexico and the European Union seemed counterproductive. Still, Cohn is prepared to stay until the end of the month to help Trump pick his new economic adviser, this person said.

Ah, a man of principle.

Not only that, the person said, Cohn would be willing to come back for an even larger job, including possibly a cabinet post, the person said. All of Trump’s cabinet positions are currently filled.

Cohn told the president in February that he was underutilized and should have a bigger role, the person added, and if there wasn’t a bigger for him, that he was considering moving on.

Okay, so maybe not.

POLITICO (“‘It means disaster’: White House aides fear more policy chaos after Cohn departure“):

For many longtime Republican policy wonks and senior aides on Capitol Hill, Gary Cohn served as a touchstone. He was seen as the rare Trump administration official who did a good job of navigating substantive policy questions as well as the sometimes opaque decision-making process in President Donald Trump’s White House.

But with his resignation announcement Tuesday, Cohn joins the long list of policy experts who have departed in recent months — a brain drain that leaves the president with fewer people around him who know how to get policy made, and how to stop Trump from moving ahead with unworkable ideas.

Some worry the White House could return to the uncontrolled days immediately following Trump’s inauguration, when many West Wing jobs were still unfilled and former strategist Steve Bannon was writing executive orders with policy adviser Stephen Miller, including the disastrous travel ban that was ultimately knocked down by multiple courts.

“The number of bad ideas that have come though this White house that were thankfully killed dead — there are too many to count,” a White House official told POLITICO. “With Gary gone, I just think, from a policy perspective, it means disaster.”

After stuffing his head with facts so that he could debate Walter Mondale wonk-to-wonk didn’t work out so well, President Reagan’s team resolved to “let Reagan be Reagan.” It worked out quite nicely in the second debate, where a relaxed Gipper won over the audience with his charm and good humor. Team Trump is quickly shedding the so-called “adults” who have been trying to made Donald Trump more like a “normal” president. Somehow, I don’t think “let Trump be Trump” is going to work out so well.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    The White House and overall Executive Branch staff should adopt “Another One Bites the Dust” as their official song.




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  2. Mikey says:

    @Kathy: I saw one on Twitter that said “every time a Trump staffer leaves, Oompa Loompas should come out and sing a song about the perils of dishonesty and greed.”




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  3. Kathy says:

    @Mikey: You want the Oompa Loompas to die of exhaustion?




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  4. CSK says:

    I find it very difficult to believe that anyone remotely sane, knowledgeable, and competent will replace any of those who have bailed.




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  5. teve tory says:

    Cohn’s 2nd in command left 3 mos ago.




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  6. PJ says:

    And each day Trump gives one more answer to the question “What Do You Have To Lose?”…




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  7. CSK says:

    Trump just Tweeted that “many people are wanting” Cohn’s job, and that he “will choose wisely.”

    Yeah, right.




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  8. Slugger says:

    I am available. My qualifications are a total plain vanilla sex life, no convictions, no ex-wives with bruised faces on Google. My net worth is a positive number without a debt laden Manhattan property to drag it down. I can even tell you something impolite about your mother in Russian.
    Don, call me.




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  9. teve tory says:

    Cohn is leaving with a huge personal accomplishment though–by helping push through the tax plan, he transferred million of dollars of his future tax obligations onto the national debt. Not bad for 14 months’ work! #WINNING #MAGA




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  10. teve tory says:

    OT: in the Trump Tower lobby, trump is now selling mugs and other doodads with the Presidential Seal on them.

    #NotACrook #NotAGrifter #You’re TheGrifter




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  11. michael reynolds says:

    Maddow is reporting that, following rumors McMaster might be on his way out, John Bolton was seen at the White House. So, see? Things can get worse.




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  12. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    From that I gather that Trump has overcome his distaste for Bolton’s mustache.




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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Soon, there will be nobody left for Kelly to fire.




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  14. becca says:

    @michael reynolds: Bolton is known as a kiss-up, kick down kinda guy.

    Obsequious is this guy’s middle name. Mango would adore him and the world would revile him (again).

    Hopefully, GWB cooties will put him off joining the horror show in the WH.




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  15. MBunge says:

    Two points.

    1. Are we talking about the same Gary Cohn who was running Goldman Sachs during the 2007 financial crisis, where they admitted defrauding investors and paid $5.6 billion to settle a federal lawsuit? At this rate, I bet the lawyer for the Parkland school shooter is wondering how much an anti-Trump diatribe might help his client.

    2. If there are credible arguments for some tariffs, why have those arguments been totally absent from our public discourse on trade?

    Mike




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  16. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge:

    If there are credible arguments for some tariffs, why have those arguments been totally absent from our public discourse on trade?

    They’re not. There was plenty of talk of tariffs during the 2016 campaign, for example, especially from Trump and Bernie Sanders. Labor organizers, notably AFL-CIO, have been calling for them for years. Historically, it’s been a Democratic position, not a Republican one, but Trump has changed that.

    I think Trump is wrong, in both process and substance here. These tariffs are stupidly overbroad, hurting allies like Canada, Germany, and South Korea far worse than they hurt China. But I could be persuaded that fighting China’s wanton disregard of their WTO obligations via tariffs—preferably in conjunction with others—is a good idea.




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  17. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Slugger:
    You’re over-qualified.




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  18. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @MBunge:

    Are we talking about the same Gary Cohn who was running Goldman Sachs during the 2007 financial crisis, where they admitted defrauding investors and paid $5.6 billion to settle a federal lawsuit?

    of course…why else would Trump hire him. Contrary to draining the swamp as he conned you into thinking…he’s filled it with the most disgusting slime.




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  19. Mister Bluster says:

    Bungles:..If there are credible arguments for some tariffs, why have those arguments been totally absent from our public discourse on trade?

    Dr. James Joyner:..They’re not. There was plenty of talk of tariffs during the 2016 campaign, for example, especially from Trump and Bernie Sanders. Labor organizers, notably AFL-CIO, have been calling for them for years.

    I think it is worth noting here that MBunge has, once again, made a claim that is demonstrated to be patently false.




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  20. Mister Bluster says:

    test




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  21. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I think it is worth noting here that MBunge has, once again, made a claim that is demonstrated to be patently false.

    And then he ran and hid…his typical weazily MO.
    But really you can’t blame Bunge…the only way to support President David “Textbook Generic Sex” Dennison is to tell yourself lies.




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  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    The Bung never knows what’s going on because he sees only what Hannity shows him. GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Who knew staying informed was so difficult?




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  23. inhumans99 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I am honestly much less worried if Bolton was announced as McMaster’s replacement right this very second than I was not 48 hours earlier due to North Korea basically saying to President Trump I give in…y’all are just crazy enough to actually start a new world war so we will stop testing, and sit down to talk about denuclearization.

    Wait…there is still Iran which I am sure Bolton wants to go to war over, and yet I stand by what I said above because with Iran already dealing with inspections and NK possibly agreeing to them that even the most hawkish GOPer will ask President Trump to ease down, ease down because he is just grinding metal.




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  24. michael reynolds says:

    @inhumans99:
    Unlike Trump, Bolton knows North Korea did not give in, it won this round and American policy on Korea is in shambles. Remember that our goal was nuclear disarmament without offering Kim legitimacy. Kim has shifted the ground to nuclear disarmament as a consequence of American guarantees for his regime. We wanted de-nuke as a precondition, it is now being treated as an end-state. Bolton knows this. Unfortunately Bolton’s preferred course of action is an all-out, unprovoked, illegal and morally-depraved war.




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  25. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: I would say that “shambles” is a little hyperbolic and our “goal” was never achievable in the first place. Things are not as good as in the past, though.

    On the other hand, I’ll be visiting Korea at the end of the month, so my current opinion is subject to change.




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  26. teve tory says:
  27. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory: Last year I read a book by McElvaine about the Great Depression originally written in the 1980s and updated in the early 1990s. It was striking how similar the conservative rhetoric back then sounded to its successors in the present day. The difference is that it didn’t fall neatly on partisan lines. During the 1920s both parties were dominated by conservatives who wanted to shift the tax burden from rich to poor. They only differed in how to go about it, with Republicans tending to favor a general national sales tax and Democrats tending to favor a repeal of Prohibition so that the tax revenue from the sale of booze could be used to fund sharp reductions in the corporate tax rate. Though it isn’t mentioned in the book, I found out recently that the phrase “trickle-down economics” was coined by none other than Will Rogers, who used it to describe the policies of Herbert Hoover. I admit to being surprised; I’d always thought that was a phrase specific to the 1980s in direct reference to the Reagan Administration.

    Al Smith, who was the 1928 Democratic nominee but who was for all intents and purposes an archconservative who would go on to become a bitter foe of the New Deal, said in 1932:

    “I protest against the endeavor to delude the poor people of this country to their ruin by trying to make them believe that they can get employment before the people who would ordinarily employ them are also again restored to conditions of normal prosperity.”

    Or, as Republicans today would say in the far more terse, easy-to-digest soundbite: “Job creators!”

    The Depression dealt a political death blow to this kind of rhetoric…for a few generations. It’s striking that less than a decade after the Great Recession it’s as strong as ever.




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  28. teve tory says:

    Yep




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  29. teve tory says:

    A discussion i came across w/r/t McElvaine is that 100ish years ago, the GOP had good, inclusive social policy, but shïtty rich-people-first ecomonic policy, while the Dems had racist social policy but more inclusive ecomonic policy.

    Today, the GOP has the racism And the rich-people-first ecomonic policy, and the Dems have the more inclusive social And economic policies.




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  30. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory:

    Today, the GOP has the racism And the rich-people-first ecomonic policy, and the Dems have the more inclusive social And economic policies.

    Agreed, but Trump did run by pandering directly to that bloc of racist voters who desire more inclusive economic policy but who see themselves as locked in a zero-sum battle with those “others”–most notably foreigners taking their jobs through the country’s open-immigration and free-trade policies.

    Of course this was all a sham, and Trump’s economic views largely represent the same plutocratic agenda that the GOP has always had, which should have been obvious to anyone paying attention. But Trump did unquestionably manage to win over some of these voters who felt abandoned by no longer having a party representing egalitarianism for white people.




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  31. Matt says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: Well when you drain a swamp all that remains is the nasty slimy gunk..




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