Goldman Sachs president to play key role in setting Trump's economic policy

Gary Cohn, president of Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs, will play a key role in shaping President-elect Trump’s economic policies, as the announced pick to direct the National Economic Council.

The selection of the 56-year-old Cohn, announced Monday, again elevates the influence of Goldman Sachs’ alumni within the incoming Trump administration. Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for treasury secretary, and Steve Bannon, his pick for top political strategist, also worked at the bank.

Although Trump promoted anti-establishment and anti-Wall Street rhetoric during the campaign, he has stocked his White House with insiders such as Cohn, who has worked for Goldman Sachs for 25 years.

As is typical for top industry figures, Cohn has supported both major political parties. In the 2016 campaign, he backed Clinton rather than Trump, but over the years he has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to both Democrats and Republicans.

“As my top economic advisor, Gary Cohn is going to put his talents as a highly successful businessman to work for the American people,” Trump said in a statement Monday. “He will help craft economic policies that will grow wages for our workers, stop the exodus of jobs overseas and create many great new opportunities for Americans who have been struggling. He fully understands the economy and will use all of his vast knowledge and experience to make sure the American people start winning again.”

Cohn has long been rumored as a potential successor to Lloyd Blankfein as the head of Goldman Sachs, but instead he will take up a career in government. In doing, so he will follow in the footsteps of other notable bankers.

The first director of the National Economic Council was also a longtime banker and former chairman at Goldman Sachs: Robert Rubin, who would go on to be treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton. Rubin, who helped Clinton craft centrist policies on financial regulation and trade, later rejoined the private sector as a banker at Citigroup. In helping Clinton move the Democratic Party to the center and passing through the revolving door, Rubin became a disliked figure among many on the progressive Left.

Cohn would be in a position to influence the course of the federal government’s policy on finance, taxes, trade and more. As the council’s director, it would be Cohn’s responsibility to coordinate among agency heads and advisers to present policy options to Trump and weigh the pros and cons of legislation and rulemaking.

That role takes on added significance in the case of an economic emergency. Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary under Clinton and a Harvard professor, helped shape the government’s response to the financial crisis as President Obama’s first council director.

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Whether Cohn’s priorities would conflict with the populist policies on immigration and trade favored by Trump loyalists is a matter of guesswork. In his role as a Goldman Sachs executive, Cohn defended the bank’s role in the financial crisis, as well as the financial services industry more broadly. But on many of the controversial issues that could divide the Trump White House from the Republican-led Congress, Cohn doesn’t have much of a public record.

Democrats skeptical of Wall Street influence in government, however, are likely to view Cohn’s appointment negatively. Liberals such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have objected to bankers taking important posts.

As a top banker, Cohn has reaped significant financial rewards. His compensation has topped $20 million in each of the past two years.

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Joseph Lawler

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