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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin thinks that some of the world’s biggest CEOs made a mistake by dropping out of President Donald Trump’s business councils.
Speaking at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference, Mnuchin responded to the departure and disbanding of Trump’s main council – called the Economic and Policy Forum – and another manufacturing-focused council.
The two councils became the subject of intense debate following Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier resigned after Trump’s initial comments on the protests did not explicitly call out neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Other CEOs on the council left over the following days.
“I think CEOS have a responsibility to their company, and that’s their responsibility,” Mnuchin said. “But, they also have responsibilities to advise the government. If every time there is an issue that the government does that CEOs say ‘We don’t like this and we’re not going to give you advice anymore,’ that to me doesn’t make sense.”
The final straw for the councils was Trump’s press conference where he blamed both sides of the protest for violence and said there were “very good people” among the white nationalist protestors.
This led the main business Forum – which included GM CEO Mary Barra and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon – to disband. Trump took credit for the Forum’s decision on Twitter after they informed him of their decision and also dissolved the manufacturing council simultaneously.
Mnuchin pushed back on the CEOs decision to leave.
“My view is that being on the council doesn’t mean that they endorsed every single policy of the administration or the president,” Mnuchin said. “The purpose of the councils was to give the president advice on issues that they had different views on.”
The move was a serious public relations problem for Trump, who cast himself as business friendly and regularly touted his closeness to the business community as a reason for his presidency.
Despite the public repudiation of Trump by some of thw world’s leading business executives, Mnuchin said the president is still getting advice form the business community.
“There are still plenty of CEOs who come in and meet with us,” Mnuchin said.
While the Treasury Secretary said that there is still communication between the administration and the business community, Mnuchin disagreed with the council CEOs’ decisions to drop out.
“I personally think it ws a mistake that they were disbanded,” he said.