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 source.
McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration and 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 but has stopped short of making 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 whether Washburne is under consideration for the Commerce 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.
Another official close to Ross noted that the president "has never voiced any discontent" about the Commerce secretary.