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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Washington mulls potential Cohn replacements

Among the names being floated for Mr Cohn’s job is Mick Mulvaney, head of the White House Office of Management and Budget

Former director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn's departure leaves a void in the White House. Shawn Thew/EPA
Former director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn's departure leaves a void in the White House. Shawn Thew/EPA

The White House is weighing contenders to succeed Gary Cohn as President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, and names circulating include Goldman Sachs executive Jim Donovan, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett, and trade adviser Peter Navarro, people familiar with the matter said.

Mr Cohn’s departure, announced Tuesday, came as the president decided to move forward with a plan to slap tariffs on steel and aluminium imports - a move long opposed by Mr Cohn and promoted by Mr Navarro. The move signalled a victory for protectionist voices within the West Wing

Other names being floated for Mr Cohn’s job include Mick Mulvaney, head of the White House Office of Management and Budget; CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow; Chris Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives; Deputy Director for Economic Policy Shahira Knight; economist Stephen Moore; Vice President Mike Pence’s chief economist Mark Calabria; and Bob Steel, former under-secretary for domestic finance at Treasury under President George W. Bush, according to the people, who include White House officials and outside allies of the president.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said during an interview on Fox News on Wednesday that Mr Trump will have a long list of potential replacements, naming Mr Mulvaney and Mr Kudlow as possible solid choices. Mr Navarro said in a Wednesday that he’s not on Mr Trump’s shortlist of candidates.

“The president has a number of people under consideration” but will “take his time making that decision,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing Wednesday. When asked whether Cohncould return to the administration in another capacity, Sanders said “I’m not closing the door.”

Officials familiar with Mr Cohn’s departure said his resignation was the culmination of his aggressive campaign to persuade Trump to abandon his proposed steel and aluminium tariffs, even after the president made his snap announcement last Thursday.

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Joined by National Security Adviser HR McMaster, Mr Cohn had argued repeatedly and passionately to Mr Trump that the tariffs on imported metals would damage the relationship between the US and its closest allies while threatening to erase some of the benefits of $1.5 trillion tax cut legislation the president signed into law late last year.

The gulf between the president and Mr Cohn was made plain in a dramatic trade policy meeting on Tuesday in the Oval Office.

As aides discussed the logistics of making the president’s proposed 25 per cent tariff on steel and 10 per cent tariff on aluminium official, Mr Trump sought confirmation from his advisers that he had their support.

Mr Cohn wouldn’t agree to publicly back the president’s tariffs, the people said.

He agreed with Mr Trump that the US should take a tougher stance toward China, but believed metals tariffs that also hit Canada, Mexico and the European Union are counterproductive, a senior White House official said.

The official said that Mr Cohn had told the president in February that he felt underused and that he should have a larger role in the White House - and if that wasn’t possible, he would consider leaving. Mr Cohn plans to stay until the end of the month to help Mr Trump choose a new economic adviser, and would consider returning to the administration for a larger role such as a Cabinet post, the official said.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Trump wrote on Twitter that he would soon make a decision on a replacement. "Many people wanting the job - choose wisely," he said.