WASHINGTON -- Gary Cohn's departure from the White House is a victory for the protectionists and immigration hawks who have sought to push President Donald Trump to fully embrace their views.
The former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. president said Tuesday he would resign after what had become a bitter and personal dispute within the White House over Trump's plan to slap steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. His departure is a victory for figures who have sought to expunge the Trump administration of advocates for free trade and globalization, principles that have long been a hallmark of the Washington establishment.
A registered Democrat, Cohn was regarded as one of the few political moderates close to the president. His absence will amplify voices like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and trade adviser Peter Navarro who back the president's impulses to buck convention and pick trade fights on a global stage.
Cohn also served as a counterbalance to figures like senior adviser Stephen Miller and chief of staff John Kelly, who have pushed Trump to the right on immigration -- and worked to keep him there -- and have encouraged the president's forays into the culture wars.
The impact of Cohn's departure was only magnified by the exceptional month of West Wing turnover and turmoil that preceded it.
Rob Porter, the establishment Republican staff secretary who controlled the flow of paper to the Resolute Desk, left after his two ex-wives publicly accused him of abuse. Hope Hicks, the longtime Trump whisperer, resigned as communications director. National security adviser H.R. McMaster has held discussions about returning to the Pentagon. And son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has seen his influence curtailed because of his inability to gain a permanent security clearance and the departure of top aides earlier this year.
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 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.
Cohn had organized a meeting at the White House later this week where he planned for the president to hear directly from executives of industries that consume the metals, such as automakers. The meeting was canceled after Cohn announced his resignation. The meeting will go forward, but with Vice President Mike Pence instead of Trump, according to a person familiar with the executives' communications.
The gulf between the president and Cohn was made plain in a dramatic trade policy meeting on Tuesday in the Oval Office.