Gary Cohn, ex-Trump adviser, says China tariffs "totally hurt the U.S."

Ex-Trump adviser Gary Cohn: China tariffs "totally hurt the U.S."

Washington — Former top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said he does not believe the tariffs imposed on billions of dollars worth of goods imported from China helped the U.S. reach a preliminary trade deal with Beijing.

"I don't think the tariffs helped us get to any different outcome," Cohn, who left the White House in 2018, said Sunday on "Face the Nation."

Mr. Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed a "Phase One" trade deal at the White House last week following a trade war that spanned nearly two years and grew to include levies on nearly all imports from China.

The deal addresses intellectual property protection and enforcement, ending forced technology transfer and currency manipulation and expansion of American farm purchases, among other areas. The tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese goods will remain in place until the two countries reach a "Phase Two" agreement.

Mr. Trump, who has dubbed himself a "tariff man," has touted the levies as a way to pressure the Chinese to negotiate with the U.S., but Cohn said the duties have harmed the country despite a period of low unemployment and strong economic growth.

"I think it's totally hurt the United States," Cohn said. "Look, the U.S. economy is very strong, very solid. Employment growth is great. But we're missing a big component. We're missing the capital expenditures from companies in the United States."

Cohn, a Democrat who served as director of the National Economic Council in the White House, disagreed with Mr. Trump over the tariffs and resigned his post after the president announced double-digit duties on steel and aluminum in March 2018. Cohn said Sunday he didn't believe the tariffs on the metals were "helpful to our economy."

"The minute a company is thinking about spending capital, what do you go out and buy? You go out and buy steel and aluminum. That's how you build factories. That's how you build property, plant equipment," he said. "So all of the sudden, the advantages that we were trying to give companies to help stimulate the economy — to build facilities, to go out and hire people, to drive wages — we took away that advantage by taxing the input that they needed to build."

Regarding his decision to step down, Cohn said "at the end of the day" the president "was going a different direction on some of the trade negotiations than I would have gone. I agreed fundamentally on what the issue was. I just didn't agree on how to solve the issue."

While Cohn left the White House nearly two years ago, a new book by two Washington Post reporters references his experiences working as a top adviser to Mr. Trump. An excerpt published last week details a July 2017 meeting at the Pentagon that Cohn was reportedly present for, in which the president called military leaders "a bunch of dopes and babies."

Cohn said he hasn't read the new book, but said Mr. Trump acts the same in public as he does in private.

"What you see on TV is exactly what you get in private with the president. The president is the same person behind closed doors as he is out in public, which is a unique feature," he said. "You know, it's not like he turns it on or turns it off when he walks outside. So you've seen everything the president has. That's exactly what you see when you're in a private meeting with him."