Kudlow moves to restock White House economic team

Key Points
  • National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow is interviewing potential deputies and advisors amid turnover.
  • He is considering Strategas’ Clifton and Heritage’s Moore for key roles.
  • Roughly a quarter of NEC jobs are open.
Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council, speaks to reporters outside the White House April 4, 2018 in Washington, DC.
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Lawrence A. Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, returned to work at the White House on Monday, two weeks after being hospitalized for a mild heart attack. On his immediate to-do list was interviewing candidates for key soon-to-be-vacated NEC roles.

Kudlow is considering Dan Clifton, head of policy research at Strategas Research Partners, for the role of deputy director, according to three people familiar with the matter. He is also considering bringing on Stephen Moore — economist, conservative commentator and close personal friend of Kudlow’s — for a senior advisory role, these people said.

Clifton was seen at the White House on Monday afternoon. When reached by CNBC on Tuesday, he declined to comment. He is among a handful of candidates for a deputy or chief of staff role, these people say, a slate that includes senior officials at other government agencies. At least one current NEC employee — Andrew Olmem, who runs financial policy — is said to have been considered internally.

A deputy role will be vacated in coming weeks by Shahira Knight, who is slated to begin a public affairs role at The Clearing House/Financial Services Roundtable on July 9 but may instead remain in the White House to run its legislative affairs arm. The other two deputy roles are held by Ashley Marquis, currently on maternity leave, and Everett Eissenstat, who reports jointly to Kudlow and national security adviser John Bolton.

Moore — along with Kudlow, former Reagan advisor Arthur Laffer and billionaire Steve Forbes — is one of the early architects of the Trump campaign’s tax plan. In the run-up to the 2016 election, Laffer recalled Kudlow and Moore visiting members of Congress together to sell the importance of tax reform, which would become the administration’s signature economic achievement.

“They’re quite simpatico,” Laffer told CNBC. “If he could make up his own position for Steve and make it fit Steve, I think that would be a home run.”

Moore declined to comment. Neither the White House nor Kudlow, who worked at CNBC as a host and contributor before joining the Trump administration, responded to a request for comment.

While the turnover is chalked up to natural attrition 18 months into the administration, it has created a vacuum within one of the most well-stocked and highly regarded policy units within the White House. A quarter of the 24 jobs within the NEC are currently open - including the senior roles spearheading infrastructure and agricultural policy. 

“It is important especially to have a fully staffed NEC because of its policy coordination role,” says James Pethokoukis, policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “With financial markets so highly tuned to what the White House is saying on trade, making sure the NEC is functioning smoothly is paramount.”