Investor Wilbur Ross was brought into the administration as one of President Donald Trump’s “killers” — but in recent months, the commerce secretary has been increasingly marginalized, with his agency widely seen in the White House as a mess.
Trump himself has lashed out at Ross in Oval Office meetings, telling the man who once helped bail him out in Atlantic City that he’s “past his prime” and “no longer a killer” and trying to bench him from making trade deals, according to three people familiar with the comments. Despite being one of the administration’s leading protectionist voices early on, Ross was initially left off a May trade delegation to China led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
But now Ross is heading back to China in early June in hope of cutting some type of trade deal that delivers on Trump’s campaign promises to extract concessions from Beijing on behalf of American workers.
Fans of Trump’s protectionist stance have been heartened — Ross “is one of the Trump trade champions, and he gets the issues,” said former Nucor steel CEO and Trump campaign adviser Dan DiMicco — but others say Ross taking the lead this time around is a dim sign for the talks.
“The fact that he is going over to China is a signal that the president has some confidence in him. He likes Ross even if he does not consider him a killer,” said one former administration official. “But it’s also a signal that they are not expecting a whole lot. You would not send him if you were expecting real progress.”