How Gary Cohn got overruled on Trump’s tariffs

On Thursday morning, a White House official told CNBC the president would likely announce tariffs. The administration later backtracked, saying Trump would likely only hold a listening session with steel as well as aluminum executives, who support tariffs, without creating an announcement.

The delay came as the free trade wing of the White House, led by Cohn, disagreed with trade hawks from the administration on whether to impose tariffs. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, trade advisor Peter Navarro as well as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer all backed the measures.

During the meeting with executives Thursday, Cohn argued against taking action, according to a person from the room. He warned about cost increases for steel as well as aluminum products.

Trump let Cohn contain the floor, then rebutted him, the person said.

“which’s not the real world,” the president said, adding the cost increases were a “modest cost to pay.”

Ross also spoke during the meeting, yet only when Trump addressed him. Among the various other Trump advisors attending were Lighthizer, Navarro, chief of staff John Kelly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, counsel Don McGahn, as well as senior advisors Jared Kushner as well as Stephen MIller.

During the White House meeting, Trump said he had made his decision, yet the paperwork to enact the item was not finished. “We’re going to get those papers done, Don?” he asked McGahn.

Halfway through the event, Trump told the attendees he would likely impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports as well as 10 percent on aluminum imports, the person from the room said. The president left the event to attend a meeting on school safety for more than a half-hour.

When Trump returned, the White House assembled reporters to film the conclusion of the meeting. The president prompted executives to explain why they supported the tariffs.

When asked by reporters, Trump announced the 25 percent as well as 10 percent tariffs on the metals himself.

— CNBC’s Eamon Javers contributed to This kind of report.

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