Another Trump Killer’s Head May Roll

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was brought into the administration as one of President Donald Trump’s “killers” — but, as the egotistical President has driven everyone with any expertise out of the government, even his buddy Ross is increasingly marginalized and is a mess.

As Trump has taken on replacing all of our trader deals with “Arts of the Deal,” Ross seemed to be one standout, someone who actually had run real businesses even after Gary Cohn who had once run Goldman Sachs gave up and quit.

Now, as China triumphs in trade deals,  the boss has told Ross, the  man who once bailed Trump out of bankruptcy in Atlantic City, that Ross is  “past his prime” and “no longer a killer.”  So, instead of someone, anyone, who has ever negotiated a major business or trade deal, our team in China is led by Trumpists like Peter Navarro, a retired professor from UC Irvine, known more for fringy views than solid economics.  As for Ross?  Trump tried to bench his commerce secretary from making trade deals with China and when Trump finally gave in, the Americans had an open expletive filled fight in front of the Chinese.   Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a man whose main credential comes from financing movies, led that fight with Navarro.  MAGA

So, from POLITICO,


Now Ross is heading back to China in early June in hope of cutting some type of trade deal that delivers on Trump’s campaign promises to extract concessions from Beijing on behalf of American workers.

“The fact that he is going over to China is a signal that the president has some confidence in him. He likes Ross even if he does not consider him a killer,” said one former administration official. “But it’s also a signal that they are not expecting a whole lot. You would not send him if you were expecting real progress.”

Originally, Ross had hoped to play the alpha dog on trade policy. He tried to establish his dominance early on by launching a Commerce Department investigation into the effects of steel and aluminum imports on national security. He even maintained an office in the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House grounds, keeping him in close proximity to Trump.

But he has been outmaneuvered by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was confirmed in May 2017 — the last of Trump’s first wave of Cabinet officials to pass through the Senate. Lighthizer quickly morphed into a power player and launched his own investigations into cybertheft and Chinese trade demands.

Ross also hurt himself politically when he brought back to the president two potential deals with China last year. One would have cut China’s production of steel, though some policy experts say China was already planning to so by closing some plants. The other deal would have allowed imported cooked chicken from China into the U.S. in exchange for opening up the Chinese market to U.S. beef.

In a meeting in the Oval Office, Ross tried to cast the beef deal as a big win — but the president viewed it as too small and a bad agreement, an original sin in this White House. He reamed out Ross in front of a small cadre of officials, according to the three people briefed on the exchange, and told Ross he wanted him out of the negotiations.

That was the beginning of Ross’ marginalization, even if the president still likes him personally and even if Ross still attends trade meetings as a principal.

Ross has also run into bureaucratic snafus. Early Commerce reports on the steel and aluminum tariffs were held up for weeks because they lacked legal analysis or input from national security experts or other agencies, such as the Department of Defense, according to one Republican close to the White House.

The Commerce Department, contacted days before publication of this story, did not initially comment. On Tuesday, press secretary James Rockas emailed after publication: “This story is absurd. Secretary Ross has had a seat at the table during our country’s major trade initiatives. Under President Trump’s leadership, Secretary Ross continues working to reverse the decades of poor decisions that have weakened our country’s great industries and resulted in fewer opportunities for the American people. This anonymously sourced commentary has no merit.”

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley also commented via email post-publication: “The President has full confidence in Sec. Ross and his efforts to bring the Chinese to the table and negotiate on behalf of American workers. To suggest Secretary Ross has been ‘marginalized’ in the same story about his primary out-front role in the upcoming trip to China is laughably ridiculous on its face.”

Trump’s focus on trade — including announcing $50 billion in tariffs on Tuesday and negotiating over the Chinese electronics company ZTE — has put Ross in the middle of the biggest fights dividing Trump’s economic advisers.

“He is the most prominent commerce secretary in many, many years,” said Larry Kudlow, director of the White House’s National Economic Council. “I mean, he’s really a central player of all of the trade talks.”

Critics, however, charge that Ross is running a 47,000-person government agency like a boutique financial firm.

Under Ross’ leadership, the Commerce Department has seen an exodus of five top Republican appointees, leaving the agency in the hands of three Ross loyalists who work on the building’s fifth floor and control most decisions emanating from the building.

These aides are focused on fulfilling Ross’ wishes on trade policy, sometimes to the detriment of the agency’s other wide-ranging responsibilities, which include 12 different bureaus and offices that cover everything from economic analysis to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to minority business development, the U.S. census and patents.

Inside the agency, career staff have been locked out of the much of decision-making, according to current and former administration officials, although a new political appointee, Karen Dunn Kelley, is earning high marks from staff.

Outside observers worry most about the fate of NOAA, which comprises about half of the Commerce budget, and the U.S. census, slated to begin in 2020. The Census Bureau does not have a Senate-confirmed director in place.

Both the acting head of the Census Bureau, Ron Jarmin, and the assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA told POLITICO that Ross is very engaged in their respective missions, and they’ve met him at meetings, or when he’s visited their offices.

The census “preparations are well underway,” Jarmin said. “When they first came in the door, there was a steep learning curve, but they picked it up quickly, and they are in the weeds with us,” citing a recent census exercise in Rhode Island as one example.


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