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Gary Cohn steps down as GOP urges Trump restraint on tariffs

Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn is stepping down -- another major White House resignation, this time over trade policy. As President Trump pushes ahead with his plan for tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, Republicans are increasingly sounding their concerns about starting trade wars, and urging the president to take a more ”targeted” approach. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A major resignation at the White House tonight over trade policy.

    Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn says he's leaving. In a statement, he says it's been an honor to serve. Cohn is a longtime opponent of the kind of protectionist policies the president is advocating right now, including calling for large tariffs on imported oil — imported steel and aluminum.

    Meantime, the president kept pushing his tariff ideas today, but more and more Republicans in Congress are pushing back.

    Lisa Desjardins reports on the day's developments.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republican leaders at the microphones for the first time since President Trump's tariff announcement were parts cautious and concerned. From House Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan, the careful approach, first something positive.

    Rep. Paul Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: The president is right to point out that there are abuses. There clearly is dumping and trans-shipping of steel and aluminum. That's absolutely happening. There's a big overcapacity problem. Let's go focus on that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Then a less direct negative.

  • Rep. Paul Paul Ryan:

    And that is why we think that the proper approach is a more surgical approach, so that we do not have unintended consequences.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In public, other Republicans similarly downplayed the divide, and echoed one word– targeted.

    Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma–

  • Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.:

    I think we want to be a lot more targeted in our approach.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senator Rob Portman of Ohio:

  • Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.:

    Well, I think it should be more targeted, as I have said from the start.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina:

  • Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.:

    Tariffs on finished goods that are targeted

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Targeted meaning smaller and more specific than the president's idea of broad 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

    This as the Aluminum Association weighed in today, saying it is — quote — "deeply concerned" about possible job losses. Matching that more direct tone was Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, broaching fears of a trade war.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, Majority Leader:

    Where most Republican senators are right now, including myself, is genuine concern that this not escalate into something much broader.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But the president is not shifting.

  • President Donald Trump:

    When we are behind on every single country, trade wars aren't so bad.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today, the president stood next to the prime minister of Swede. Steel is one of his nation's 10 biggest exports. Mr. Trump again stood his ground.

  • President Donald Trump:

    When we're down by $30 billion, $40 billion, $60 billion, $100 billion, the trade war hurts them. It doesn't hurt us.

    We need steel and we need aluminum. And there is a theory that if a country doesn't have steel, it doesn't have a country. And it's true.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The question for lawmakers today–what will be the president's final policy?

  • Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.:

    The history of the president, the answer would be yes, because too often it goes this position today is not this position tomorrow.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Also high on the concern list, Canada. Mr. Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked trade in a phone call last night. Canada is the U.S.' number one foreign supplier of both steel and aluminum.

    White House officials say the tariffs will be formalized in the next two weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, while we're watching this big division between the president and his own party, Republicans, someone in the White House who he has now relied on is leaving.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And not just anyone, the point person on these kind of large economic issues.

    Judy, I have to tell you, talking to senators today, Gary Cohn is someone they were talking about, scratching their head. I talked to two different Senate committee chair people who said they weren't sure why Gary Cohn was still staying, because clearly the president is going in a different direction from what he believes in.

    The other man's name on their lips, Peter Navarro. He is the one who wants these protectionist policies in place. He's someone that more and more we see concern with from people on Capitol Hill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And who was just recently give an promotion in the White House, as all these — the president announced what his positions are on tariffs, on steel and aluminum.

    So, where do things go in the Congress with this kind of dissension with Republicans?

  • Lisa Desjardins:


    First, I guess the question is, can Congress do anything? Yes, they have that power. The Constitution grants Congress clear power here, but they would need a two-thirds vote to override the president on any tariff policy that he promotes.

    There is a bill by Senator Mike Lee of Utah that would give Congress clear power that Congress would have to vote on every tariff. It's not clear how many votes it has.

    To date, talking to members of Congress, these are smart people who have done this a long time, I can tell you there are really two tangible approaches that I felt from Republicans. One, hope the president changes his mind, and, two, hope the president changes his mind.

    I can't convey enough how utterly unsure how to react to this members of Congress are who have free trade in their veins. And I think, Judy, that is what the president was hoping for. That's what he came here to do. And he has.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we have seen dissension between the president and Republicans. We're in new territory here, aren't we?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    And on this issue, on trade, it is not just by party. This is regional as well. There are some Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia who love what the president is doing. The divides are not clear.

    But I think the bigger story, Judy, is this is a struggle over power, a balance of power issue that's been with this country for hundreds of years, and right now the president is showing the power is with him. Congress is not sure how to deal with that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he doesn't seem to be prepared in any way to back down.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.

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