Goldman veteran shifting White House's direction

Mr Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, is widely considered a future candidate for chief of staff.
Mr Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, is widely considered a future candidate for chief of staff.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • As ideological battles and power struggles engulf the White House, an unlikely player is exercising new influence on the direction of President Donald Trump's administration.

Mr Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president, is capitalising on his new position as director of Mr Trump's National Economic Council (NEC) to push a centrist vision and court bipartisan support on some of Mr Trump's top agenda items, such as tax reform and a US$1 trillion (S$1.4 trillion) infrastructure plan.

The growing strength of Mr Cohn and like-minded moderates was on display this week as Mr Trump reversed himself on several high-profile issues - including a less confrontational approach towards China, an endorsement of government subsidies for exports and the current leadership of the Federal Reserve.

The President's new positions move him much closer to the views of Mr Cohn and others on Wall Street, not to mention mainstream Republicans and Democrats.

It was the clearest sign yet that an alliance of moderates in the White House - including Mr Cohn; senior adviser Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law; and another former Goldman Sachs employee, Ms Dina Powell - is racking up successes in a battle over ideology and control with hard-core conservatives led by chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

Mr Cohn is widely considered a future candidate for chief of staff.

"Cohn might be a newbie to policy and Washington, but you have to give him credit for one thing," said Mr Gene Sperling, who held Mr Cohn's job during the Obama administration.

"While others seemed engaged in ideological and House Of Cards-like staff warfare, he quietly and quickly focused on the first rule of governing: He hired some competent, professional staff at the NEC, and it has paid off for him."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'Goldman veteran shifting White House's direction'. Print Edition | Subscribe