Donald Trump said he’s disbanding two advisory groups of American business leaders, after CEOs quit this week as the president faced blowback for failing to sufficiently condemn white supremacists.
Trump made the announcement on Twitter, less than an hour after one of the groups was said to be planning to inform the White House that it would break up.
“Rather than putting pressure on the business people of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!” Trump said on Twitter.
His remarks were a reversal of what he said a day before, when he tweeted that he had plenty of CEOs who wanted to be on the panels to replace those who quit, and called the CEOs who left “grandstanders.”
Trump appeared to be making an effort to get ahead of the news as the councils began to disintegrate. The strategy forum, which is led by Blackstone Group LP’s Stephen Schwarzman, planned to inform the White House Wednesday before making the announcement public, according to another person familiar with the matter, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the news publicly.
In a statement from the strategy and policy forum, the group said it was breaking up amid the controversy. “The debate over forum participation has become a distraction from our well-intentioned and sincere desire to aid vital policy discussions on how to improve the lives of everyday Americans.”
Council Falls Apart
Schwarzman hosted a conference call late Wednesday morning in which he gauged how many members were ready to leave and who was willing to stay, according a person with knowledge of the conversation. The majority indicated they would leave the group, so a decision was reached to disband, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations.
Another key strategy forum member, BlackRock Inc. CEO Larry Fink, said that he also made the decision to quit the council. In a memo sent to BlackRock employees provided to Bloomberg, Fink said that over the last 24 hours he “informed our clients on the forum as well as the forum’s chairman of my decision to resign.”
The strategy group is one of several the White House convened earlier this year to advise the president. Several CEOs from a manufacturing council quit this week, following blowback over Trump’s remarks about racially charged violence in Virginia on Saturday.
Pressure to leave the groups has built following a press conference Trump held in New York Tuesday where he placed partial blame for the weekend violence on demonstrators protesting a gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. A woman was killed during the event after a man rammed a car into a crowd.
While more than half a dozen executives have quit a manufacturing CEO group, others have said they wanted to stay on the panels in order to influence White House policy.
The manufacturing council hasn’t met since February. The CEOs of Under Armour, Intel, Merck quit earlier this week. And on earlier Wednesday, Inge Thulin, CEO of 3M left, as did Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison.
“Following yesterday’s remarks from the president, I cannot remain on the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative,” Morrison said in a statement. “I will continue to support all efforts to spur economic growth and advocate for the values that have always made America great.”
The dispute over the panels began on Monday, when Merck & Co.’s Kenneth Frazier took a public stand against Trump, saying that quitting the manufacturing council was a “matter of personal conscience” and said that U.S. leaders had to reject “hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.”
On Tuesday, Trump held a press conference where he doubled down on an earlier statement that both white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville to protest the removal a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and counter-demonstrators were at fault for the mayhem. Trump said he saw “blame on both sides.”
—With assistance from Justin Sink, Melissa Mittelman, Hugh Son and Sabrina Willmer