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White House seeks Gary Cohn successor from long slate of contenders

| Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 7:57 p.m.
Former Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn waits to speak in the Brady Briefing Room on President Trump's tax reform plans in Washington.
AFP/Getty Images
Former Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn waits to speak in the Brady Briefing Room on President Trump's tax reform plans in Washington.
National Trade Council adviser Peter Navarro waits for President Trump for an event in the Oval Office at the White House.
Associated Press
National Trade Council adviser Peter Navarro waits for President Trump for an event in the Oval Office at the White House.

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

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

Other names being floated for 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 Trump will have a long list of potential replacements, naming Mulvaney and Kudlow as possible solid choices. Navarro said in a Wednesday interview with Bloomberg TV that he's not on Trump's short list 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 Cohn could return to the administration in another capacity, Sanders said "I'm not closing the door."

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

Joined by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Cohn had argued repeatedly and passionately to Trump that the tariffs on imported metals would damage the relationship between the U.S. 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 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 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum official, Trump sought confirmation from his advisers that he had their support.

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

Cohn agreed with Trump that the U.S. 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 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. Cohn plans to stay until the end of the month to help 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, Trump wrote on Twitter that he would soon make a decision on a replacement. "Many people wanting the job — choose wisely," he said.

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