Peter Navarro, whose influence on trade policy was seen as diminished when his office was moved under the National Economic Council last year, is being promoted to an “assistant to the president” role — a move likely to elevate his ability to impact looming trade actions and ongoing negotiations, sources briefed on the personnel decision told Inside U.S. Trade.
[Jenny Leonard | February 26, 2018 | Inside US Trade]
As one of his first acts in office last September, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly moved Navarro’s Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy under the purview of the NEC, where Navarro had to report to Director Gary Cohn and lost previously obtained one-on-one access to the Oval Office.
Sources said Kelly, in establishing a paper trail and organizational structure at the White House, also forced Navarro to copy Cohn on all of his emails in an attempt to control what they described as “chaos” that reigned whenever President Trump was making a decision on a trade matter.
The people informed about the personnel change said both Kelly and former staff secretary Rob Porter over time had weakened Navarro’s role on trade policy and limited his access to Trump, and that Porter’s recent departure from the White House and Kelly’s reportedly weakened trust with the president had helped elevate the former economics professor to a position outside of the NEC.
Porter, a former staffer for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), organized weekly trade meetings during which the president could hear input from key officials. Sources also saw Porter as an important connection to Hatch and his caucus who often gave Capitol Hill a heads-up on pending actions as well as readouts of the weekly sessions.
“It’s going to be much more like the first six months of this administration than the last six months,” one source briefed on the planned announcement said. “You have to have responsibility to come to these trade meetings, and in the last six months he has had no job, Porter had him in Siberia, Cohn ignored him and Kelly was happy with it.”
A former trade official said the announcement means Navarro is being “elevated in a pretty significant way.”