said Tuesday he is “very strongly” considering naming CNBC commentator Lawrence Kudlow to replace
as director of the National Economic Council.
Two senior administration officials said Tuesday they believed Mr. Kudlow was the president’s likely choice for the job and that a decision could be finalized within days.
Mr. Kudlow’s candidacy for the post is notable because the former Wall Street economist has repeatedly and publicly chided Mr. Trump’s position on trade. He has also voiced alarm with rising budget deficits, Mr. Trump’s apparent preference for a weaker dollar, and the president’s desire to use trade deficits as a report card on economic vitality.
“We don’t agree on everything but in this case I think that’s good,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “I want to have a divergent opinion. We agree on most.”
Mr. Cohn resigned last week as Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser after being sidelined by a decision to impose broad steel and aluminum tariffs. Mr. Kudlow had backed Mr. Cohn’s position against those measures, calling the White House’s tariff policy misguided.
In recent days, however, the White House has discussed providing exemptions on the tariffs for Canada, Mexico and Australia, among others. Mr. Kudlow has privately said he could support tariffs with such modifications if they are used as a broader negotiating tool to improve trade relationships, according to a person who has spoken with him in recent days.
Mr. Trump said on Tuesday that Mr. Kudlow “has come around to believing in tariffs as also a negotiating point.”
Mr. Kudlow served as an informal Trump campaign adviser, and the president has sought his advice intermittently on economic issues. He declined to comment.
The two men have spoken by phone twice since Sunday, according to a person familiar with the matter.
One challenge facing the White House is that having sided with his more protectionist advisers, analysts said, Mr. Trump is now significantly less able to attract the kind of business or conservative-policy luminary that he had in Mr. Cohn, an investment banker who was chief operating officer for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. before joining the White House last year.
Other candidates for the job include
the director of strategic initiatives at the White House, and
the architect of the president’s tariff program.
Mr. Kudlow’s allies have pitched him to the administration as someone who could effectively communicate Mr. Trump’s policies to the public given his long career in radio and television.
While Mr. Kudlow would likely argue internally against more disruptive trade measures, such as a withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement, his friends have said he is more likely than Mr. Cohn to publicly defend policies when the president reaches a different decision.
Mr. Trump said he likes Mr. Kudlow because the television commentator was one of the first to support him in his long-shot presidential bid. “I’m also speaking to many others, but I think Larry has a very good chance,” he said.
Unlike cabinet agencies such as the Treasury Department or the Office of Management and Budget, the NEC has no formal responsibility for carrying out legislation or regulations.
Its authority depends on whatever power the president invests in it, and the director’s profile waxes and wanes based on his or her effectiveness in the role and the degree to which the president relies on his or her input.
Since it was created in 1993 by then-President
the NEC has served as a way station for forging policy positions and resolving disputes that cut across multiple agencies in the executive branch.
Mr. Cohn enjoyed a higher profile than many of his predecessors, in large part because the investment banker had instant credibility with business leaders in the U.S. and abroad.
Mr. Kudlow began his career as a junior economist at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. He later served as a budget adviser to President
and was chief economist at Bear Stearns Cos. until 1994, when he resigned and subsequently acknowledged a drug addiction.
Unlike prior NEC directors, he hasn’t recently worked in business or government. Instead, Mr. Kudlow has spent much of the past two decades as an economic commentator and has toyed with running for public office.
Write to Nick Timiraos at firstname.lastname@example.org