Trump could replace Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross by end of the year

Mark Wilson | Getty Images

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (R) speaks before U.S. President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum aimed at what he calls Chinese economic aggression in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on March 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. 

President Donald Trump is telling people he wants to replace Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross by the end of the year, according to three people familiar with the matter who are close to the president.

Trump favors Linda McMahon to replace Ross in the role, said these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He is also considering Ray Washburne, whom Trump appointed as president and CEO of Overseas Private Investment Corporation last year, according to one of the people.

McMahon, the head of the Small Business Administration and the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has told some of the president’s closest advisors that she’s likely to take the job if she’s offered it, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

These people also said that a final decision has not been made and Trump could always change his mind at the last minute. It is also not clear whether Trump would push out Ross. The president has often expressed displeasure about Cabinet members only to not make a personnel move. Yet, these developments come two days after Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a frequent target of the president’s wrath.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not deny that McMahon has become the lead contender to replace Ross. “No personnel announcements at this time,” Sanders said.

The Small Business Administration didn’t deny it, either. “Administrator McMahon is proud to serve the President and is focused on advocating on behalf of America’s 30 million small businesses,” the SBA said in a statement to CNBC.

Sanders did not respond to follow up requests on whether Ross will leave the administration by the end of the year or Washburne is under consideration for the top post.

The notion that Ross could be out soon received some pushback from elsewhere in the administration. “There is no indication that Secretary Ross will be gone any time soon. He’s posted significant wins for the president’s trade agenda and that shows,” said a senior administration official close to Ross.

Ross watched the election returns with Trump Tuesday night at the White House, said a source with knowledge of the situation.

Washburne, and a Commerce Department spokesperson did not return requests for comment.

Politico first reported that McMahon was favored to replace Ross.

There have been reports that Ross had fallen out of favor with the president. Still, Ross has continued to support the president’s trade agenda, particularly as it pertain to the tariffs he’s implemented against countries that have historically been U.S. allies. He has also been a champion of Trump’s trade battle with China.

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