The decline and fall of Wilbur Ross
President Donald Trump has put Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross out to pasture.
Wilbur has lost his step. Actually, he’s probably lost a lot of steps.
— President Trump, shaking his head in resignation, to one of our sources
One problem: Ross’s efforts to wheel and deal with the Chinese have left the president unimpressed. Another problem: He keeps falling asleep in meetings.
Early in Trump’s presidency, Ross was his go-to negotiator, helming the administration’s trade talks with the Chinese. After a few months, though, Trump concluded he was doing a terrible job.
In a series of Oval Office meetings about six months into his presidency, Trump eviscerated Ross, telling him he’d screwed up, and badly.
“These trade deals, they’re terrible,” Trump said, according to a source in the room for one of the meetings. “Your understanding of trade is terrible. Your deals are no good. No good.”
Trump told Ross he didn’t trust him to negotiate anymore. Ross had tried in the early months of the administration, before Robert Lighthizer was confirmed as the U.S. Trade Representative, to take the lead on several crucial trade conversations. Once Lighthizer arrived there was a tussle for control over several issues. But after Ross botched — in Trump's eyes — his dealings with China, he decided Lighthizer would be the lead negotiator on all trade issues.
During this period, Trump humiliated Ross in front of his colleagues, per three sources, and questioned his intelligence and competence.
The Financial Times reported in August that Trump rejected a China steel deal that Ross thought he’d closed. But nobody has reported the extent of Trump’s castration of Ross. Trump has effectively taken his Commerce Secretary — who he once called a “killer” — off the playing field.
One example: Ross made a deal to open the U.S. market to cooked Chinese chicken, in exchange for the Chinese opening their market to American beef. Ross told reporters it was a “herculean accomplishment,” and “more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade,” per the AP.
But Trump wasn’t impressed with this deal — at all — and told our sources he found Ross’s boasting to be laughable and ridiculous.
Ross’s propensity to doze off in meetings — which senior Capitol Hill aides have noticed — hasn’t helped.
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