Trump disbands business councils after CEOs quit

Donald Trump said he would dissolve the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and...
Donald Trump said he would dissolve the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum after eight executives quit the panels. Photo: Reuters

President Donald Trump disbanded two high-profile business advisory councils on Wednesday (local time) after several chief executives quit in protest over his remarks blaming weekend violence in Virginia on anti-racism activists as well as white nationalists.

A parade of prominent Republicans also rebuked Trump, as well as US ally Britain, leaving him increasingly isolated after his comments on Tuesday about the bloodshed in the college town of Charlottesville further enveloped his seven-month-old presidency in controversy.

The mayor of Phoenix asked Trump to delay a rally planned for next Tuesday, an appeal the president appeared to reject.

A memorial service was held on Wednesday in Charlottesville for 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car plowed into anti-racism protesters on Saturday. A 20-year-old Ohio man said to have harbored Nazi sympathies has been charged with her murder.

Trump, a real estate magnate who had never before held public office, was elected president in November touting his experience in the business world and ability to strike deals. However, some of the Republican president's actions and words have alienated many corporate leaders.

He said he would dissolve the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum after eight executives, including Campbell Soup Co CEO Denise Morrison and 3M Co CEO Inge Thulin, quit the panels.

Both councils were moving to disband on their own when Trump made his announcement on Twitter.

"Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both," he wrote.

The Strategic and Policy Forum was headed by Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman, a close ally of Trump in the business world. Schwarzman organized a call on Wednesday for member executives to voice concerns after Trump's comments, and an overwhelming majority backed disbanding the council, two sources said.

Schwarzman then called Trump to tell him about the decision to disband.

Campbell Soup Co's Morrison said: "Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville."

JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon, a member of one of the panels, said in a statement that "fanning divisiveness is not the answer."

Dow Chemical Co Chief Executive Andrew Liveris, who headed the manufacturing council, said he told the White House on Wednesday that "in the current environment it was no longer possible to conduct productive discussions."

The Strategic and Policy Forum was intended to advise Trump on how government policy impacts economic growth, job creation and productivity. The manufacturing council was designed to promote US job growth.

Along with the snubs from business leaders, Trump was rebuked by a string of Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Senator Lindsey Graham and former US Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

The demise of the councils raised Wall Street speculation that senior administration figures, such as White House economic adviser Gary Cohn or US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (above), might step down. Photo: Reuters
The demise of the councils raised Wall Street speculation that senior administration figures, such as White House economic adviser Gary Cohn or US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (above), might step down. Photo: Reuters

POSSIBLE RESIGNATIONS

A former senior Trump administration official raised the prospect that some White House officials could quit because of Trump's comments.

The demise of the councils raised Wall Street speculation that senior administration figures, such as White House economic adviser Gary Cohn or US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, might step down to avoid being tarnished by association with Trump.

Cohn, Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao stood awkwardly by Trump during his remarks at Trump Tower on Tuesday.

"He's worried about his reputation being trashed, which is much more valuable to him than anything else," the former administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of Cohn.

McConnell, who drew Trump's ire last week over the Senate's failure to pass healthcare legislation, issued a statement saying "messages of hate and bigotry" from white supremacists should not be welcome in the United States. McConnell's statement did not mention Trump by name.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, a group whose board includes big party donors including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, called on Trump to "provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry and antisemitism."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there is "simply no place" in American public discourse for the "hate and violence" displayed in Charlottesville. He spoke before a meeting with Canada's foreign minister.

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