President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser on Thursday tamped down reports of escalating tensions between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, as the two administration officials seek to broker a resolution to an ongoing trade dispute with China during two days of high-level meetings in Washington.
“We have a very strong negotiating team,” Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said in an interview with Fox Business. “There’s a lot of misreported, gossipy stuff that didn’t go on.”
Mnuchin and Navarro reportedly clashed two weeks ago during an initial round of talks in Beijing, engaging in a screaming match and cursing at one another on the lawn in front of the Chinese government building where the negotiations were taking place.
The confrontation spiraled after Navarro complained to Mnuchin that he’d been shut out of certain meetings with Chinese officials, according to one person on the trip, POLITICO reported. But a senior administration official claimed the Treasury secretary was just following protocol in meeting one-on-one with his Chinese counterpart as the head of the delegation.
“I didn’t hear any shouting. I didn’t hear any cursing — at least not in English. And I don’t speak Chinese all that well,” Kudlow said. “I can just say this is a very overrated story, and it ain’t much of a story — just gossip, for heaven’s sake.”
Navarro’s role in negotiations this week with the Chinese trade delegation in Washington remains unclear. Though one administration official said Navarro is being excluded from the talks on Thursday and Friday, a White House spokeswoman later said he would have a role.
“We are representing the president’s views,” Kudlow said. “This is big time stuff, and let’s not waste it on, frankly, phony gossip stories.”