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Trump signals Larry Kudlow is the leading candidate to replace Gary Cohn

March 13, 2018 04:45 pm

President Donald Trump signaled Tuesday morning that Larry Kudlow is his leading candidate to take the helm of the national economic council, further boosting the chances of a longtime conservative commentator and self-described "supply-side" economist who championed the Republican tax law passed this fall.

Gary Cohn, currently director of the White House National Economic Council, announced his upcoming resignation earlier this month amid disagreements with the president over Trump's planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

"I'm looking at Larry Kudlow very strongly. I've known him a long time - we don't agree on everything, but in this case I think that's good," Trump told reporters outside the White House. "He's a very talented man, a good man, and I think he has a good chance [at the job]."

Trump also suggested the search is not over, saying he will still be "speaking to many others" about the opening. White House officials have also pushed Trump to consider Christopher P. Lidell, a former chief financial officer of General Motors, Microsoft and International Paper who has served in the White House since last year. Cohn has favored Shahira Knight, one of his deputies, to take over the job, according to multiple reports.

Kudlow, 70, spent several years working in former president Ronald Reagan's White House budget office. He also worked for the Wall Street firm Bear Stearns before hosting CNBC's "The Kudlow Report," a conservative-leaning show about business and politics. Kudlow is still a regular presence on cable news and hosts a podcast, "The Larry Kudlow Show," that has been generally complimentary of Trump on a wide range of issues beyond economics, including on immigration, abortion and the "scam" Russia investigation.

Kudlow has at times publicly criticized Trump or his policies.

Like Cohn, Kudlow has been critical of the president's tariff policy. Kudlow joined two other conservative economists to write a CNBC piece claiming the plan amounted to "tax hikes."

"Trump should also examine the historical record on tariffs, because they have almost never worked as intended and almost always deliver an unhappy ending," they wrote.

Trump sought to downplay the disagreement on Tuesday, saying Kudlow was beginning to agree with Trump that the tariffs can serve as a bargaining chip against other countries in other negotiations.

"[Kudlow] now has come around to believing in tariffs also as a negotiating point," Trump told reporters. "I'm also negotiating trade deals, and without tariffs we wouldn't do nearly as well."

Kudlow served as an economic adviser to Trump's presidential campaign, helping to craft the then-candidate's tax plan.

Kudlow criticized Trump after the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape in which the president boasted of acts of sexual assault and said he was reconsidering his support for the president, but Kudlow eventually reaffirmed his support for Trump.

"Larry has been a friend of mine for a long time. He backed me very early in the campaign - I think the earliest; I think he was one of my original backers," Trump said Tuesday.

Trump spoke over the phone with Kudlow on Sunday and Monday about the position, and has also consulted with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law.

During the tax debate, Kudlow pushed for Republicans to dramatically slash the corporate tax rate. The new law lowers the rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, a major win from Kudlow's perspective. Kudlow helped persuade skeptical Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., to support the measure, Politico reported.

"He takes an extraordinary optimistic view that tax cuts will create substantial growth with little to no revenue loss," said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank. "He's a zealous advocate of tax relief as the solution to a lot of problems."