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Morning News Brief: Cohn's Resignation, Texas Primary Results


Many people - U.S. allies, economists, his fellow Republicans - have been hoping the President Trump will not go through with his new tariffs on aluminum and steel. He still has not signed the papers, but a major opponent of the move is leaving the White House.


Yeah. Nine months ago, Gary Cohn had this to say about his job on Bloomberg News.


GARY COHN: I get to come in and work in the White House every day. It's a dream-come-true job, working as an adviser to the president. I'm very happy.

MARTIN: Dream seems to be over, though, now that he's leaving that job, which involved a bit more disagreement than Cohn let on there. He nearly quit at least once but stayed to advocate for economic policy. And now he seems to be losing a policy fight as the president moves to impose the tariffs.

INSKEEP: So let's start a discussion with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you make of this resignation?

LIASSON: Well, this was the longest-rumored resignation in the Trump White House. Gary Cohn first made it known, as you said, that he considered leaving after the Charlottesville incident when the president seemed to make a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and the people who protested against them. Gary Cohn also lost the argument on staying in the Paris climate agreement. He wasn't appointed to the Federal Reserve chair position, which he wanted. But he stayed on to pass the tax cut bill, which he did. And he's been fighting this fight against tariffs for months, and months and months in the White House, and he lost. And he had threatened to resign if the president went ahead with these tariffs, and now he's decided to leave.

INSKEEP: Well, Uri Berliner is with us also, Mara. He covers the economy for NPR News, as you know. Uri, good morning to you.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why were these tariffs so significant that all those other defeats would not cause Gary Cohn to resign, but this would?

BERLINER: Well, Gary Cohn is a free trader. It's sort of who he is. And he was probably concerned about a trade war - retaliation from other countries, escalating tariffs and a complete breakdown of the global trading system. Now, this doesn't happen automatically if the Trump administration imposes those tariffs, but we've already seen threats of retaliation by the European Union. So if you're Gary Cohn, you must be thinking, why do this? What purpose do they serve? You know, the economy's doing well. Tax cuts were passed, companies about to bring back some of their profits from overseas. What's the point?

INSKEEP: OK. What is the point?

BERLINER: Well, President Trump thinks if there is a trade war, America will win it. But most economists and analysts don't agree with that at all. They say a trade war would be damaging all around and really unpredictable. It would threaten a lot of different American jobs and companies. Now, you know that President Trump - he's been fighting back for a long time against what he says is unfair foreign competition. That's something he's been complaining about for at least 30 years.

INSKEEP: The - he's been saying the same thing about the loss of the steel industry and so forth.

BERLINER: Yeah, about trade...

INSKEEP: ...Which was a big story in the '80s, in a way.

BERLINER: Right - about trade deficits, foreign companies dumping their products, American companies losing out to unfair competition.

INSKEEP: How are the markets reacting to the news of Gary Cohn's departure?

BERLINER: Well right after the news came out, the Dow futures fell very sharply. It's still down. The stocks fell in Asia, and they're off a bit in Europe today, as well.

INSKEEP: Of course, he wasn't the guy making the decisions, but he was a symbol of a particular policy approach. Mara Liasson is still with us. And Mara, I can't help but note, this is the latest of many, many, many, many, many departures from the White House.

LIASSON: Lot of departures.

INSKEEP: I'm not sure if that's the right number of manys, but in any case, a flurry of departures. Why?

LIASSON: There really is an image of chaos in the White House, and the president is aware of that. These people are leaving for different reasons. Some are fired. Some have left of their own volition, like Hope Hicks. Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, hasn't left, but his role has been circumscribed in the White House.

INSKEEP: Security clearance issue, yeah.

LIASSON: Rob Porter - right. Rob Porter, who was the staff secretary, left after he was accused by his two ex-wives of abuse. He was an ally of Cohn's. And I think his resignation was really important. He was the linchpin of the White House policy process that apparently evaporated in the run-up to Trump's surprise announcement about tariffs. And Trump talked about this turnover at his press conference yesterday. He said, first of all, he likes chaos; he likes conflict; he likes watching people who work for him fight it out. But he also sounded very sensitive about the fact that there has been so much more turnover in this White House than in previous ones.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing.

LIASSON: He went on to say he can get the 10 best people to apply for any given job. But that's hard to square with the fact that a lot of these jobs remain open. These people have not been replaced.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And using that phrase, believe me, which is often a tell when he's making a statement that people don't necessarily believe. Now, I got to ask about one other thing before I let you go, Mara Liasson, which certainly adds to the image of chaos. Last night, we learned that Stormy Daniels - stage name - her real name is Stephanie Clifford - is suing the president of the United States. What's that about?

LIASSON: Well, in any other administration, this would be the No. 1 scandal. But Stormy Daniels, who is a porn actress, was paid $130,000 to not talk about an affair she had with Donald Trump. She sued the president yesterday. She alleged that her nondisclosure agreement before the 2016 election is null and void because Donald Trump failed to sign it. And she said she wanted to go public with the story of her affair. But she signed this agreement, paid $130,000, but Donald Trump never signed it. And now she's in court to try to make that agreement null and void.

INSKEEP: OK. And we should underline, the president has denied the affair, but his lawyer has affirmed making the payment to...

LIASSON: Correct.

INSKEEP: ...Keep Stormy Daniels quiet about the affair. NPR's Mara Liasson and Uri Berliner, thanks to you both.

LIASSON: Thank you.



INSKEEP: All right, Rachel Martin is in Texas this week, where voters are waking up to the results of the country's first primary election of the year.

MARTIN: That is correct. It's really nice here, Steve. I might not come back. I'm just telling you - fair warning.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK, fine. That's fine. You know, you could base yourself in Dallas.

MARTIN: It's lovely. I am at member station KERA here in Dallas. We have to remember, this is a primary vote that happened yesterday, so there are no decisive contests here yet. And there are some runoff elections that now have to happen to decide who competes in the fall. But the big question in this vote has always been about enthusiasm. Democrats here have been fired up in ways that they just haven't been in a very long time. And this primary was widely seen as a test of how much anti-Donald Trump sentiment could affect a deep-red state. So the question now - what can Texas show us about what might be ahead for the midterms in November?

INSKEEP: Ben Philpott is going to help us address that question. He's senior editor at member station KUT in Austin.

Hey there, Ben.


INSKEEP: So OK, if the big question is turnout, how was turnout?

PHILPOTT: Well, Democrats doubled their primary turnout from four years ago, the last midterm election. They had about a million people coming out to vote in Democratic primaries. That's...

INSKEEP: Did you say - did you say doubled their turnout from the primary four years ago?

PHILPOTT: Yeah. They had about 500,000 in the primary four years ago and now a million. So that's all good news. But then you, of course, look on the other side of the aisle. Republicans had about 1 1/2 million people come out and vote.

INSKEEP: Oh, they still had more people who were active in the process - Republicans, of course, the dominant party in Texas.

MARTIN: Although I have to tell you, I don't even - sorry to interrupt, Ben. I don't even think it matters for Democrats right now. They don't - they just want to savor this. I mean, these are people who have felt irrelevant in Texas for, you know, decades. And last night, we were at this campaign event for the Democrats here in Dallas, and they just wanted to focus on the moment. And they've got high hopes. They're like, yeah, we can turn it; this is our chance.

INSKEEP: You were at some kind of watch party or something last night.

MARTIN: It was a watch party for the Democratic - for the Democrats who were running locally. And they are feeling optimistic. Now, as Ben just tried to highlight, it is still a very steep road to go.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about this, also, the other question, of course, for Democrats if they're challenging is, did they get good candidates in place? This has been a problem, as we know, for Republicans in past years, where they've had races that seem very winnable on the energy on their side but did not choose electable candidates. How did Democrats do there, Ben?

PHILPOTT: Well, you know, I think, very specifically, they're pointing at these districts that they really do think they can flip in the fall, districts where Hillary Clinton actually won the district in 2016, even...

MARTIN: (Unintelligible).

INSKEEP: Oh, I think we lost Ben there. But I think his point was - Rachel, you can help us out here - districts where Hillary Clinton won in 2016 but that there is a Republican member of Congress - aren't there a number of districts where you had - in past years, you've had Republicans running essentially unopposed? One of the big news items here was that Democrats were actually fielding a fuller slate of candidates than in past years.

MARTIN: Right. And Ben can chime in if we've still got him. But there are Democrats running in places that Democrats haven't been competitive before. Isn't that right, Ben?

PHILPOTT: Yes. There were several seats where you had Republicans either stepping down or just a real sense that this could be a chance to change the equation in a district with more Democrats coming out to try and take back those seats, more female candidates coming back - coming to run than the state's seen in a while. And, you know, now, of course, a lot of those are heading into runoff elections.

INSKEEP: Rachel, let me give you the last word here. Beto O'Rourke, Democratic congressman from El Paso, nominated to challenge Ted Cruz - Senator Ted Cruz - does he have a real shot?

MARTIN: You know, he only got 62 percent of the vote in this three-way primary, and he had the most name recognition out of anyone. So, you know, we'll see. Ted Cruz still secured 85 percent of his vote, although he is attacking O'Rourke directly now. He's got a radio ad. It's a pretty catchy song. I'm not going to sing it for you. But it says, if you're going to be a competitive in Texas, basically, (singing) you can't be a liberal, man.

There you...

INSKEEP: OK, fine, fine. That's Rachel Martin and Ben Philpott.

MARTIN: (Singing) Da da da (ph)...

INSKEEP: Thanks to you both, guys.

MARTIN: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIBIA$E'S "ONE4JAX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.