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Trump Says He's Not Worried That Steel And Aluminum Tariffs Might Spark Trade War


White House economic adviser Gary Cohn is calling it quits. Cohn announced his departure today less than a week after the president ordered stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Critics say that move could trigger a trade war. Cohn and others in the administration have been arguing against tariffs, but they appear to be on the losing end of a White House struggle.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Hi, Scott.


KELLY: So this latest in a series of departures - this seems turbulent even by Trump White House standards. What's going on?

HORSLEY: It is. You're right. Cohn is a free trader, and he appears to have lost out in this battle to the nationalist forces in the White House led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and trade adviser Peter Navarro. But more broadly, this is a turbulent time. We've seen the ouster of the staff secretary, the departure of the communications director, continued rumors that chief of staff John Kelly could be on his way out. In fact, Cohn's name had been floated just a few weeks ago as a possible replacement for Kelly. So at a White House news conference this afternoon, the president was forced to defend himself against the notion that his administration is in free fall.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The White House has tremendous energy. It has tremendous spirit. It is a great place to be working. Many, many people want every single job. You know, I read where, oh, gee, maybe people don't want to work for Trump and believe me; everybody wants to work in the White House.

HORSLEY: The president acknowledged there would be some turnover, though, and within a couple hours we had news that Cohn was on his way out.

KELLY: And thing - speaking of things happening quickly, financial markets are already reacting to this news.

HORSLEY: That's right. The stock market domestically was closed when this news broke, but in after-hours trading futures are down. Cohn was a Wall Street veteran and seen as a steadying force in the West Wing. And, you know, the market's already spooked by the threat of a trade war, so this is only going to add to that. Cohn nearly quit last summer when he was disappointed with the president's reaction to that Nazi and Klan demonstration in Charlottesville. And he was also overruled when Trump decided to pull out of the Paris climate accord. The president insists all this factional fighting is creative, though, and just the way he likes it.


TRUMP: I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view. And I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. But I like watching it. I like seeing it. And I think it's the best way to go. I like different points of view.

KELLY: All right, that's the president. He was speaking there at this afternoon news conference. And by his side was the prime minister of Sweden, a man with whom he has some sharp differences over these proposed tariffs.

HORSLEY: That's right. Sweden is a member of the European Union which has threatened to retaliate with tariffs of its own on U.S. exports. And Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says his little country is very dependent on exports. So he does not want to see a trade war.


PRIME MINISTER STEFAN LOFVEN: I'm convinced that increased tariffs will hurt us all in the long run. And as a Swede, I of course support the efforts of the European Union.

HORSLEY: And, Mary Louise, this tit-for-tat could escalate because the president says if the European Union imposes tariffs on the U.S., he will crack down on European exports such as Volvos.

KELLY: Volvos - all right, another item that came up during this news conference was election meddling. The president was asked about that. He said the administration is taking steps to keep the November election meddle-free. Tell us what he said.

HORSLEY: Yeah. You know, the president rarely talks about election meddling. He says his administration is doing more, though, to protect the integrity of the upcoming midterms than it gets credit for. He spoke highly of old-fashioned paper ballots as tough to hack and said he would counteract whatever Russia tries to do. Although he often - as he often does, he sort of equivocated on Russia's role in the 2016 election.


TRUMP: The Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever. But certainly there was meddling, and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals. And I think you have to be really watching very closely. You don't want your system of votes to be compromised in any way.

KELLY: All right, that's the president. And we've been hearing what he said from NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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