Trump’s Faux Breakup With His Manufacturing Council

By Annie Lowrey

It was a quick turn for 26 hours’ time. On Tuesday morning, President Trump blasted Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive officer of Merck Pharmaceuticals, for leaving a White House advisory council in protest of Trump’s equivocating statement on the white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville. On Wednesday afternoon, after more than half a dozen CEOs joined Frazier in publicly refusing to work with the White House (and others reportedly quietly indicated they might do the same), Trump abruptly disbanded two advisory panels.

The question of who dumped whom aside, the breaking-up of the two panels did not make for the best optics for an often chaotic White House. That said, the development seems unlikely to change the course of policymaking in Washington. The panels were largely ceremonial, and the Trump administration has shown a remarkable willingness to heed the demands of big business, even if big business has this week shown a remarkable willingness to chide the Trump administration.

Both the manufacturing council and the strategic and policy forum—a group of top executives from a broad range of industries, representing Boeing, General Electric, and JPMorgan Chase, among other firms—were launched with significant fanfare. In a statement, the then-president-elect said that “pioneering CEOs” would help “create new jobs across the United States from Silicon Valley to the heartland.” Soon after, the White House held a few splashy events with the corporate executives who signed on, eager to get the president’s ear.

But it was never clear exactly what the councils were doing other than providing photo opportunities. There has been little to show from their meetings, and from the start, virtually all of the news about the councils involved controversy, with various members quitting in protest: Travis Kalanick of Uber due to the Muslim ban, Robert Iger of Disney and Elon Musk of Tesla over Trump pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, and then Frazier and many others over the Charlottesville incident. With every withdrawal, the remaining CEOs found themselves forced to explain why they continued to work with Trump. In many cases this led executives to repudiate his policies and stress that they were staying on for the good of the economy.

The dance was always an awkward one. “It’s a tough situation for CEOs,” Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told Fort Worth’s Star-Telegram. “You want to make nice with the president because you’re a public company and you have shareholders, and it’s hard to balance doing the right financial thing versus doing what they think is the right thing, whatever your political beliefs are.” (Trump and Cuban are often at odds. Once, Trump said Cuban “backed me big-time but I wasn’t interested in taking all of his calls. He’s not smart enough to run for president!”) With Trump condemning the violence on “many sides” and saying that there were “fine people” marching with the white nationalists in Charlottesville, that dance became untenable.

Frazier quit. Trump lashed out. “They’re …read more

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