US National Economic Council director Gary Cohn announced his resignation on Tuesday, after President Donald Trump’s insistence on imposing large tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Cohn had reportedly given prior warning he would quit if the president followed through on his tariff threat.
Cohn was seen as a steadying influence in the White House by the Washington establishment and Wall Street, where he spent his prior career as an investment banker.
Politico described his departure, along with the recent departure of others, as “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.”
Economic analyst, conservative commentator and Trump confidant Larry Kudlow described Cohn’s resignation as a “turn for the worse” for the trade-policy debate in the White House.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say the cause for freer trade is over,” Kudlow told CNBC. “But we’ll see who is appointed. I personally regret this [resignation] very much.”
Kudlow added that he “personally urged [Cohn] to stay.”
Markets fell immediately after a Bloomberg report that Trump was expecting the resignation, and dropped again in after-hours trading once the decision was confirmed.
Fueling market fears is word that China-hawk economic-policy adviser Peter Navarro, a staunch advocate of imposing steep tariffs as a tool to balance trade deficits, is on the short list to replace Cohn. The president reportedly agreed recently to promote Navarro to a role that would give him more access to top strategy meetings.
Also on the list, according to The Washington Post, is Kudlow himself, who previously served as a campaign adviser during Trump’s successful 2016 bid for the presidency.