After Cohn and Tillerson undermine the president in public, White House clashes escalate
President Donald Trump is growing frustrated with the “globalists” in his administration, and at one point this month, he ordered his staff to start bringing him tariffs on subsidized imports.
Trump was apparently getting tired of excuses when it comes to trade policy, in an incident first reported by Axios on Sunday.
Trump told the roomful of White House officials, including John Kelly, his new chief of staff, and Gary Cohn, his director of the National Economic Council, that he was tired of excuses, according to the Axios account, which was confirmed to LifeZette by a White House official with direct knowledge of the conversation.
At one point, Trump reportedly berated his other staff members in front of the new chief of staff.
“John, let me tell you why they didn’t bring me any tariffs,” Trump said, according to Axios. “I know there are some people in the room right now that are upset. I know there are some globalists in the room right now. And they don’t want them, John, they don’t want the tariffs. But I’m telling you, I want tariffs.”
The Trump administration is likely to slap tariffs on cheap Chinese steel and aluminum, perhaps as early as September, in a move that could rankle some of the more conventional staffers in the White House. But the contingent of aides some refer to as the “globalists” may have already notched one success: They reportedly succeeded in ousting Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and a top skeptic of unfettered free trade.
But no one stands atop the hill for long in the Trump White House. With Trump’s apparent dissatisfaction with the pace of trade talks, the so-called globalists may now be on the defensive. And the president is reportedly livid at Cohn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for committing perhaps the worst alleged offense in Trump’s mind: disloyalty.
The subordinates presently under Trump’s scrutiny are much higher in rank than former staffers like Anthony Scaramucci, the communications director who met an unceremonious end to his White House tenure in late July after only 10 days on the job.
Not surprisingly, the latest round of problems is related to Trump’s handling of the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12.
Cohn made clear to the Financial Times on Friday that he was upset with the response Trump gave to the media in an impromptu press conference on Aug. 15. During that exchange with reporters, Trump said there were “fine people” on “both sides” of the violence between white supremacists and counterprotesters in the Charlottesville melee, causing a huge firestorm.
Cohn told the Times that the administration can do better at denouncing such racist violence, and that left-wing groups counterprotesting racism were not equivalent to KKK members and neo-Nazis.
Cohn’s remarks are likely to be seen by Trump as giving succor to the media, the Democrats and the Left — something that will surely irk the president.
And Trump’s allies are unhappy about the criticisms from his aides, too. Roger Stone, a top Trump confidante, told LifeZette that Cohn should be fired immediately.
Two days had not passed since Cohn’s headline-grabbing interview before a new problem arose within the West Wing, this time thanks to a Cabinet official.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Tillerson told anchorman Chris Wallace that the United States was committed to “equal treatment of people the world over.”
“I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values,” said Tillerson.
“And the president’s values?” Wallace asked.
“The president speaks for himself,” said Tillerson.
The response from the punditry was quick and brutal: Tillerson had just said the president didn’t speak for the United States, only for himself.
Tillerson’s Sunday remarks reportedly made the president furious. But Axios reported the president is in a difficult place: Tillerson is needed for now, especially because North Korea fired a missile over Japan on Monday afternoon.
Cohn is also needed for tax reform, due from Congress in the fall.
But Tillerson’s remarks brought some leaks from Trump allies, who told Axios that the president has been souring on Tillerson for a while now.
“Rex just doesn’t get it. He’s totally Establishment in his thinking,” Trump told a confidante, who then leaked the remark to Axios.
White House aides are also upset with the pace of Tillerson’s staffing the State Department.
On Monday, Trump took a few questions from the media as he met with Finland President Sauli Niinistö. The president’s feelings toward Tillerson did not come up, as the secretary of state sat in the front row for the event. But as the president and Niinistö left the East Room, a reporter from NBC News shouted out a question: “Mr. President, do you still have confidence in your secretary of state?”
Trump did not answer, a possible sign he is stewing.