Gary Cohn Says Trump’s Trade Advisors Have Left the White House ‘Living in Chaos’

Cohn said the president was "desperate" to reach a trade deal with China.

Gary Cohn, Trump's former director of the National Economic Council.
Trump’s former director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Gary Cohn believes President Donald Trump’s protectionist advisors have left the White House “living in chaos” over key trade disputes, signaling out Peter Navarro as the “only” PhD economist who advocates imposing tariffs. Speaking on the Freakonomics podcast, the former National  Economic Council director noted that Trump announced last year’s steel and aluminum tariffs after Navarro helped broker a meeting with industry heads.

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“They created that meeting without anyone knowing it,” Cohn said on Wednesday, adding that Navarro circumvented the president’s former chief of staff John Kelly. “When the process breaks down, then you’re sort of, in my mind, living in chaos.”

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While Cohn acknowledged unfair Chinese trade practices, he said tariffs “don’t work” in today’s global economy and that he regularly struggled in convincing Trump over protectionists like Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“I was losing the war on tariffs every day with the president. I knew I wasn’t convincing him I was right,” continued the former White House economist. “I was not going to take a 74-year-old man who’s believed something since he was 30 and convince him that I was right. Believe me, I tried.”

Although Trump on Wednesday told reporters he was “not in a hurry” to hash out negotiations with China, Cohn said the president was “desperate” to reach a trade deal.

“The president needs a win,” added Cohn, before raising concerns over Trump’s ability to challenge Chinese markets. “I think market access, the Chinese will give because they’ve been close to giving it for a while. But how are we going to stop the Chinese from stealing intellectual property or not paying for it? … What is the enforcement mechanism, and what are the punitive damages if they don’t stop?”

Gary Cohn Says Trump’s Trade Advisors Have Left the White House ‘Living in Chaos’