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President Trump disbanded two councils of business leaders advising him on economic issues

Major business leaders had taken great exception to Trump’s comments about Charlottesvile, Va.

President Trump Holds Policy Forum With Business Leaders Chip Somodevilla / Getty

President Donald Trump claimed Wednesday that he had disbanded two councils of corporate executives advising him on manufacturing and the U.S. economy, marking a major break between the White House and Wall Street following the president’s controversial comments about the recent incident in Charlottesville, Va.

In the days since the neo-Nazi demonstrations there, nine corporate leaders -- including Merck CEO Ken Frazier and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich — had fled Trump’s two teams. Some specifically called attention to Trump’s rhetoric after the president attributed the violence to “many sides,” rather than denouncing white supremacy.

The companies that still remained on board with the White House’s efforts — including the chief executives of IBM, Pepsi, JPMorgan Chase, Walmart, and other banking, energy and tech giants -- huddled earlier Wednesday to discuss how best to proceed. They resolved the repeated questions about their continued membership had become a “distraction,” they said in a statement — but not before Trump could tweet his intention to dissolve his councils.

For Trump, the massive exodus of top executives is a political blow: The president specifically has sought to emphasize his proximity to business leaders in order to build support for efforts to lower the corporate tax rate, spur new infrastructure spending, renegotiate trade deals and tackle other economic challenges.

For those executives, however, the departure is an attempt to stave off the sort of criticism that’s haunted them since they began to talk to Trump after his election.

Tech companies in particular have faced heat — from their own employees — for working with Trump as he sought to limit immigration and unwind the Obama administration’s work on climate change. That pressure played no small part in the previous decisions by Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, and Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber at the time, to leave the president’s teams.

A spokesman for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Specifically, Trump had two councils. One was a manufacturing initiative, chaired by Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow. There, participants included Bill Brown, the CEO of Harris Corporation; Alex Gorsky, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson; and Michael Dell, the leader of the company that bears his name.

The exodus from that council began Monday with Ken Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, who said he had to leave as a matter of “personal conscience.” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich later lamented that politics had prevented the group from accomplishing much work. And by Wednesday morning, they found themselves among a total of eight executives who had walked away from Trump’s manufacturing-focused team.

Trump’s other council was the Strategic and Policy Forum, led by Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone. Members included Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM; Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric; and Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors.

As a group, they decided — along with Trump, they said Wednesday — they had no choice but to disband.

“As our members have expressed individually over the past several days, intolerance, racism and violence have absolutely no place in this country and are an affront to core American values,” they said in a statement. “We believe 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. As such, the President and we are disbanding the Forum.”

(Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Schwarzman as CEO of BlackRock. He is CEO of Blackstone.)

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