×

CNBC Transcript: White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn Speaks with CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Today

WHEN: Today, Friday, February 3rd

WHERE: CNBC's "Squawk on the Street"

Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn on "Squawk on the Street" (M-F, 9AM-11AM ET) today, Friday, February 3rd at 9:30am ET. Following is a link to the full interview on CNBC.com: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000590273.

All references must be sourced to CNBC.

CARL QUINTANILLA: AS PRESIDENT TRUMP CONTINUES HIS OUTREACH WITH CORPORATE EXECUTIVES AT THE WHITE HOUSE, NEW SIGNS TODAY ON THE STRENGTH OF THE U.S. ECONOMY. LABOR DEPARTMENT SAYS 227,000 JOBS WERE ADDED IN JANUARY. UNEMPLOYMENT RATE AT 4.8%. JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT THAT AND THIS MEETING AT THE WHITE HOUSE TODAY IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL FORMER GOLDMAN SACHS C.O.O. GARY COHN. GARY, WE'VE NOT HAD A CHANCE TO CONGRATULATE YOU ON THE NEW JOB. SO CONGRATULATIONS. WELCOME BACK.

GARY COHN: THANK YOU. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

QUINTANILLA: THIS MEETING YOU'RE ABOUT TO GO INTO -- WE'LL TALK ABOUT JOBS IN A MOMENT, BUT INVESTORS SPENT THE LAST COUPLE MONTHS ABSORBING WHAT THEY SEE AS PRO GROWTH POLICIES, SOME SAY AT THE SAME TIME PROTECTIONIST POLICIES. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO FEEL LIKE IT'S STEPPING ON THE GAS AND THE BRAKES AT THE SAME TIME?

COHN: LOOK, CARL, WE'RE VERY MUCH INTO A PRO GROWTH STRATEGY HERE. AS YOU MENTIONED WE HAVE A CEO GROUP COMING TO THE WHITE HOUSE TODAY. THIS IS OUR FOURTH OR FIFTH, OR MAYBE EVEN OUR SIXTH MEETING WITH CEOs HERE AT THE WHITE HOUSE. WE'VE HAD A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT GROUPS IN ALL TALKING ABOUT GROWING THE ECONOMY, CREATING JOBS, WHAT WE CAN DO TO HELP PROMOTE ECONOMIC GROWTH, WHAT WE CAN DO TO HELP PROMOTE JOBS AND PROSPERITY HERE IN THE UNITED STATES. SO EVERYTHING WE'RE DOING IS TRYING TO CREATE JOBS AND TRYING TO CREATE GROWTH HERE IN THE ECONOMY.

JIM CRAMER: GARY, JIM CRAMER. I TOO OFFER YOU CONGRATULATIONS. GREAT TO TALK TO YOU.

COHN: HEY, JIM, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

CRAMER: ABSOLUTELY. GARY, YOU HAVE BEEN FANTASTIC IN TALKING ABOUT WHAT TECHNOLOGY DOES TO JOBS AND HOW EVEN OUR CELL PHONE IT TAKES AWAY JOBS.

COHN: YEAH.

CRAMER: ABOUT HOW IT KEEPS WAGES DOWN. WE SAW WAGE NUMBER TODAY STILL NOT A LOT OF GROWTH. ARE YOU ACTIVELY INVOLVED WITH THE PRESIDENT TALKING ABOUT HOW, YOU KNOW WHAT, EVEN THOUGH WE WANT MANUFACTURING JOBS BACK WE HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND WHAT TO DO WITH THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ACTUALLY PUT OUT OF WORK BY OUR FABULOUS TECHNOLOGY.

COHN: JIM, WE'RE SPENDING ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF TIME TALKING ABOUT THAT. THAT HAS BEEN A VERY INTERESTING TOPIC FOR THE FIRST COUPLE WEEKS IN THE WHITE HOUSE. WE REALLY HAVE TO THINK ABOUT WHAT OUR WORKFORCE IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE IN 2020, 2030, 2050. OUR WORKFORCE AND OUR LABOR FORCE IS GOING TO LOOK DIFFERENT THAN IT DID IN THE 1920s, 1930s AND 1950s. MANUFACTURING'S GOING TO BE DIFFERENT. THE ROLE OF AUTOMATION, THE ROLE OF ROBOTICS, ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IS GOING TO BE COMPLETELY WE'RE THINKING ABOUT THAT. WE'RE THINKING ABOUT THE IMPACT. WE'RE THINKING ABOUT THE EDUCATION PROCESS. HOW WE TEACH PEOPLE, HOW WE EDUCATE PEOPLE, HOW WE GET PEOPLE READY TO BE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN THE WORKFORCE IS GOING TO CHANGE AND CHANGE DRAMATICALLY AND IT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.

CRAMER: ALL RIGHT. THE ADMINISTRATION HAS BEEN TOUGH ON SOME OF THE AMERICAN AUTO COMPANIES, OBVIOUSLY HAD MARK FIELDS IN, MARY BARRA, TALK ABOUT GM AND WHETHER GM IS TAKING JOBS AWAY. HOW DO YOU CONVINCE THE BIG GERMAN AND JAPANESE CARMAKERS THAT IT'S NOT REALLY A GREAT IDEA TO OPEN IN MEXICO AND THAT IT WOULD BE BETTER IF THEY OPENED IN SOUTH CAROLINA, IN GEORGIA, IN TEXAS IF THEY REALLY WANT ACCESS TO THE U.S. MARKET?

COHN: WELL, LOOK, THERE'S A LOT OF DIFFERENT WAYS FOR US TO ATTRACT BUSINESS TO THE UNITED STATES. ALL OF THE CEO GROUPS THAT HAVE COME IN HAVE BASICALLY TOLD US THREE THINGS, AND THEY'VE ALL BEEN CONSISTENT WHAT THEY'VE TOLD US. THEY'VE TOLD IT TO US IN THIS ORDER. THE FIRST THING HURTING BUSINESS GROWTH IS REGULATORY POLICY. THE SECOND THING HURTING BUSINESS GROWTH IS TAX POLICY. AND THE THIRD THING HURTING BUSINESS GROWTH IS OUR INFRASTRUCTURE. SO WE HAVE TO ATTACK THOSE THREE THINGS. IRONICALLY THAT IS OUR AGENDA. WE'RE GOING TO GO AFTER OUR REGULATORY POLICY. WE'RE GOING TO LOWER REGULATORY BURDENS IN THE UNITED STATES. WE'RE GOING TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR BUSINESSES TO BUILD BUSINESSES, HIRE PEOPLE, BUILD FACTORIES. NUMBER TWO, WE'VE GOT TO MAKE OUR TAX POLICY MORE COMPETITIVELY ADVANTAGEOUS FOR COMPANIES HERE IN THE UNITED STATES. WE HAVE HIGH TAXES RELATIVE TO THE REST OF THE WORLD. THAT'S A DISADVANTAGE FOR U.S. COMPANIES. WE HAVE A 35% CORPORATE TAX RATE, THE OECD AVERAGE IS ABOUT 23%. GDP WEIGHTED IT'S ABOUT 26%. WE CAN'T BE THAT MUCH HIGHER THAN THE REST OF THE WORLD. WE'VE GOT TO GET COMPETITIVE. WE'RE COMMITTED TO DO THAT. LAST THING IS WE'VE GOT TO BUILD A BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE. WE'VE GOT TO MAKE GETTING RAW MATERIALS TO FACTORIES AND GETTING FINISHED GOODS OUT OF FACTORIES MUCH MORE EFFICIENT FOR OUR COMPANIES HERE TO BE COMPETITIVE IN THE WORLD. AND WE'RE COMMITTED TO DO THAT.

DAVID FABER: GARY, IT'S DAVID FABER. YOU MENTIONED OF COURSE TAX REFORM WHICH YOU SAID IS A KEY COMPONENT OF THE OVERALL GROWTH AGENDA. SPECIFIC TO THAT, WILL THE ADMINISTRATION SUPPORT A BORDER TAX ADJUSTMENT AS PART OF ANY TAX REFORM PACKAGE?

COHN: DAVID, AT THIS POINT WE ARE EXPLORING EVERY AND ALL OPTIONS TO GET OUR U.S. CORPORATE TAX RATE DOWN TO THE LOWEST POSSIBLE LEVEL WE CAN GET IT. WE ARE OPEN TO EVERY OPTION. THIS IS A VERY TOUGH PROBLEM IN GETTING OUR TAXES DOWN. WE'VE GOT A LOT OF EXPENDITURES HERE IN THIS COUNTRY. WE WANT TO PRESERVE MANY OF OUR EXPENDITURES SO WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE REVENUE SIDE OF THE EQUATION. WE'RE OPEN TO EVERYTHING, WE'RE NOT EXCLUDING EVERYTHING. BUT I'M NOT TELLING YOU WE'RE INCLUDING THAT. IT IS ONE OF THE OPTIONS THAT'S ON THE TABLE. YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE IT FROM ME THAT THAT'S THE OPTION WE'RE GOING WITH, BUT I'M NOT GOING TO EXCLUDE THAT OPTION. WE ARE MAKING EVERY OPPORTUNITY AVAILABLE TO US TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM.

FABER: ALL RIGHT. WELL, WHERE ARE WE THEN IN TERMS OF WHERE YOU THINK TAX REFORM'S GOING TO GO ON THE CALENDAR, LET'S JUST SAY, AT THIS POINT IN TERMS OF THE ADMINISTRATION'S INPUT AND WHAT HAPPENS? YOU SAY BORDER TAX ADJUSTMENT NO DECISION IS YET. SO MANY IMPORTANT COMPONENTS OF THIS THAT HAVE TO TAKE PLACE AND YET YOU'VE GOT TO GET A SENATE ONBOARD THAT MIGHT HAVE SENATORS FROM STATES WHERE THEY HAVE HUGE RETAILERS WHO HAVE A LOT OF INFLUENCE. THIS IS GOING TO BE A MESS, ISN'T IT, GARY? CAN YOU REALLY SEE A STRAIGHT LINE HERE TO GETTING LEGISLATION LET'S CALL IT BEFORE, I DON'T KNOW, THE FALL?

COHN: SO, DAVID, LOOK, WE ARE WORKING AGGRESSIVELY. AND WE'RE PUTTING ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF TIME AND ENERGY INTO TAX REFORM. SIMULTANEOUS TO THAT WE'RE WORKING ON HEALTH CARE. WE'RE WORKING ON REPEAL AND REPLACE. AND REPLACE IS AS IMPORTANT AS REPEAL AND OBAMACARE. WE'RE WORKING ON TAX POLICY SIMULTANEOUSLY AND WE'RE WORKING ON INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS AS WELL. WE ARE WORKING ON ALL OF THESE THINGS SIMULTANEOUSLY. WE'RE WORKING AS FAST AS WE CAN. WE ALSO HAVE TO DO A BUDGET AND WE HAVE MANY OTHER THINGS THAT WE'RE WORKING ON SIMULTANEOUSLY. WE ARE GOING TO GET THERE. WE ARE SPENDING AS MUCH TIME AS WE CAN POSSIBLY SPEND ON THESE THINGS AND I'M OPTIMISTIC WE'LL GET TO THE RIGHT CONCLUSION.

QUINTANILLA: GARY, CAPITAL MARKETS, INVESTORS, EVERYONE'S TRYING TO ADAPT TO THE NEW TEMPO OF THIS ADMINISTRATION. SO WHEN SEAN SPICER COMES OUT AND FLOATS A 20% TARIFF TO PAY FOR A WALL, DO YOU HAVE INVOLVEMENT IN THAT? HOW MUCH ARE YOU A PART OF THESE THINGS THAT SEEM TO POP OUT OF NOWHERE?

COHN: WE'VE GOT A LOT OF BALLS UP IN THE AIR. WE'VE COME OUT ON THE BLOCKS FAST. WE'RE TRYING TO GET AS MUCH DONE AS WE CAN. WE'RE THROWING A LOT OF IDEAS AROUND. AND, LOOK, WE'RE GOING TO GET TO THE RIGHT PLACE. THE ONE THING I KNOW FOR SURE IS WE'RE GOING TO GET TO THE RIGHT PLACE.

FABER: WHY DO YOU KNOW THAT?

COHN: BECAUSE I'M CONFIDENT WE'RE GOING TO GET TO THE RIGHT PLACE. WE'VE GOT A LOT OF SMART PEOPLE WORKING ON THE TOPICS, WORKING ON THE ISSUES, WE'RE EXPLORING ALL THE OPTIONS AND WE'LL GET TO THE RIGHT PLACE.

QUINTANILLA: WE'VE HAD YOU ON FOR YEARS AND WE'VE KNOWN YOU AS SOMEONE WHO, WHEN YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE, IT GETS DONE. WE'VE TALKED A LOT ABOUT THAT AT THE CULTURE OF GOLDMAN. OBVIOUSLY THIS IS A DIFFERENT SETUP WHERE YOU ARE NOW. CAN YOU JUST TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT YOU'VE LEARNED SO FAR OPERATING IN THIS CONTEXT?

COHN: WELL, LOOK, THE LAST TWO WEEKS OR THREE WEEKS HAVE BEEN ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING FOR ME. COMING TO WASHINGTON, COMING TO THE WHITE HOUSE, GETTING INVOLVED IN THE TRANSITION, IT'S BEEN AN EXTRAORDINARY LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR ME. PERSONALLY, I'VE LEARNED A LOT. IT IS A DIFFERENT CULTURE THAN RUNNING A FINANCIAL SERVICES COMPANY. AND, LOOK, EVERY DAY I LEARN MORE. EVERY DAY I GET SMARTER. BUT EVERY DAY I FEEL LIKE WE AS A TEAM IN THE WHITE HOUSE ARE GETTING BETTER AND BETTER AT WHAT WE'RE DOING. SO I CONTINUE TO BE VERY OPTIMISTIC.

CRAMER: GARY, DURING THE CAMPAIGN, THE PRESIDENT WAS NOT THAT SYMPATHETIC TO BIG BANKS. AND YET NOW WE SEE DODD/FRANK COMPLETELY REVISITED AND TAKE A LOT OF THE TEETH OUT OF IT. THE SUITABILITY ISSUES FOR THE LABOR DEPARTMENT. WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN CAMPAIGN TRUMP AND PRESIDENT TRUMP? AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO BE ABLE TO SAY, YOU KNOW WHAT, IF WE REALLY WANT TO GET THIS ECONOMY MOVING – SMALL BUSINESS, BIG BUSINESS – WE HAVE GOT TO BE ACTUALLY EASIER ON THE LARGE BANKS, NOT TOUGHER.

COHN: I THINK PRESIDENT TRUMP IS VERY REALISTIC ABOUT GROWING THE ECONOMY. HE'S HEARD FROM OVER 50 CEOs THAT REGULATORY ISSUES ARE WHAT'S SLOWING THEM DOWN. HE'S ASKED US TO START ATTACKING THE REGULATORY ISSUES THAT WE THINK ARE SLOWING DOWN ECONOMIC GROWTH. AND ONE BY ONE, WE WILL PICK OFF THESE ISSUES AND WE COME TO HIM WITH AN IDEA AND WE EXPLAIN TO HIM THE ISSUE AND WE EXPLAIN TO HIM WHY IT IS HINDERING SOMETHING OR WHY IT IS NOT HELPING THE AMERICAN CONSUMER. HE IS MORE THAN HAPPY TO GET INVOLVED. AND HE IS GIVING US THE LATITUDE TO FIX WHAT WE THINK IS WRONG.

CRAMER: ALL RIGHT. BUT LET'S GIVE YOU A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE. I HAD MARK SUTTON ON LAST NIGHT, CEO OF INTERNATIONAL PAPER. GREAT AMERICAN COMPANY. AND HE SAID LISTEN, THE EPA IS JUST WAY TOO TOUGH ON US. I HAVE MOST OF THE PIPELINE COMPANIES COME ON. THEY SAY THE EPA JUST WILL NOT LET US DO WHAT WE WANT. THE OIL COMPANIES COME ON AND SAY LISTEN, WE WANT TO DRILL, WE WANT TO PUT PEOPLE TO WORK, THE EPA SAYS NO. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE IDEA OF – I KNOW YOU CARE TREMENDOUSLY ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT BECAUSE I KNOW YOU OUTSIDE OF WORK, AND I ALSO KNOW YOU CARE ABOUT JOBS. HOW DO YOU – WHAT HAPPENS IN THOSE MEETINGS? DOES THE PRESIDENT SAY LET'S GET EPA IN HERE AND LET'S START GIVING THEM THE BUSINESS? WHAT GOES ON?

COHN: LOOK, THE PRESIDENT SAYS LET'S IDENTIFY THE SPECIFIC PROBLEMS. LET'S JUST NOT TALK IN GENERAL ISSUES. LET'S GET TO THE SPECIFIC PROBLEMS. REMEMBER, THE PRESIDENT IS A BUSINESSMAN. BUSINESSMEN ATTACK SPECIFIC PROBLEMS. SO WHEN YOU COME IN AND YOU TALK TO THE PRESIDENT ABOUT A PROBLEM, YOU CAN'T SAY, LOOK, THE PROBLEM IS BIG AND NONDESCRIPT. YOU HAVE TO TELL HIM WHAT THE DESCRIPT PROBLEM IS AND THEN WE ATTACK THE DESCRIPT PROBLEM. AND HE WILL SIT DOWN PROBLEM BY PROBLEM AND WORK THROUGH IT WITH YOU.

FABER: GARY, OUR AUDIENCE INTERESTED IN PART IN THE GSEs. AND I KNOW YOU'VE SPOKEN AND SAID A COUPLE THINGS, BUT WE'RE STILL TRYING TO UNDERSTAND DETAILS IN TERMS OF CHANGING THE CONSERVATIVESHIP, CHANGING THE SWEEP, CHANGING BASICALLY WHAT'S GOING ON WITH FANNIE AND FREDDIE. WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED HERE? AND ARE WE ACTUALLY GOING TO SEE THOSE PLANS SOON?

COHN: SO THE GSE REFORM IS DEFINITELY ON OUR AGENDA. TREASURY SECRETARY DESIGNEE STEVE MNUCHIN HAS BEEN SPENDING A LOT OF TIME WORKING ON THAT. ONCE HE GETS APPROVED AND CONFIRMED, STEVE WILL BE TAKING THAT ON AS ONE OF HIS EARLY PRIORITIES. SO WE DEFINITELY HAVE SOME PLANS IN PLACE TO WORK ON THAT. AND HOPEFULLY HE GETS APPROVED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

QUINTANILLA: GARY, WILL THE PRESIDENT APPOINT A CHAIR TO THE CEA?

COHN: I THINK HE HAS EVERY INTENTION OF DOING THAT.

QUINTANILLA: AND FINALLY, YOU GAVE A QUOTE TO THE JOURNAL ON THE FIDUCIARY RULE. YOU SAID WE THINK IT'S A BAD RULE. IT'S LIKE PUTTING ONLY HEALTHY FOOD ON THE MENU BECAUSE THEN HEALTHY FOOD TASTES GOOD, BUT YOU STILL SHOULDN'T EAT IT BECAUSE YOU MIGHT DIE YOUNGER. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT?

COHN: I DON'T RECALL THAT QUOTE, BUT OKAY. LOOK, WHAT I'M SAYING IS, LOOK, THE FIDUCIARY RULE WAS COMPLETELY MISINTENDED. SO WHAT THEY WERE TRYING TO DO IS THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE TRYING TO PROTECT INVESTORS IN THEIR RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS, BUT BY PROTECTING INVESTORS, THEY HIGHLY LIMITED THEIR CHOICES. I DON'T THINK YOU PROTECT INVESTORS BY LIMITING CHOICES. WHEN YOU'RE TRYING TO ENCOURAGE YOUNGER AND YOUNGER PEOPLE TO INVEST FOR A LONGER PERIOD OF TIME, YOU NEED TO GIVE THEM THE PROPER CHOICES THAT WILL ALLOW THEM TO ACCUMULATE WEALTH FOR A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. DON'T LIMIT PEOPLE'S CHOICES. GIVE THEM THE PROPER CHOICES TO ACCUMULATE WEALTH.

QUINTANILLA: GARY, WE KNOW YOU GOT A MEETING TO GET TO. WE APPRECIATE YOU COMING ON AS ALWAYS. HOPE TO SEE YOU A LOT. THANKS SO MUCH.

COHN: THANK YOU. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR TIME.

About CNBC:

With CNBC in the U.S., CNBCin Asia Pacific, CNBC in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and CNBC World, CNBCis the recognized world leader in business news and provides real-timefinancial market coverage and business information to approximately 381 millionhomes worldwide, including more than 94 million households in the United Statesand Canada. CNBC also provides daily business updates to 400 million householdsacross China. The network's 15 live hours a day of business programming inNorth America (weekdays from 4:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. ET) is produced at CNBC'sglobal headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and includes reports from CNBCNews bureaus worldwide. CNBC at night features a mix of new realityprogramming, CNBC's highly successful series produced exclusively for CNBC anda number of distinctive in-house documentaries.

CNBC also has a vastportfolio of digital products which deliver real-time financial market news andinformation across a variety of platforms including: CNBC.com; CNBC PRO, thepremium, integrated desktop/mobile service that provides live access to CNBCprogramming, exclusive video content and global market data and analysis; asuite of CNBC mobile products including the CNBC Apps for iOS, Android andWindows devices; and additional products such as the CNBC App for the AppleWatch and Apple TV.

Members of the media canreceive more information about CNBC and its programming on the NBCUniversalMedia Village Web site at http://www.nbcumv.com/programming/cnbc.

For more information aboutNBCUniversal, please visit http://www.NBCUniversal.com.