- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Donald Trump’s biggest gatherings of business leaders fell apart, and according to reports Trump’s own comments are to blame.
As detailed by reports, the decision to finally disband the council came after Trump’s comments over the weekend that did not explicitly denounce neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups at the heart of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Strategic and Policy Forum was announced in December 2016 for business leaders to have a direct line to Donald Trump and influence his policies going forward. Critics argued it was a simple way for Trump to display a stable, pro-business face. Steve Schwarzman, the Forum’s leader and CEO of private equity giant Blackstone, said at the time that it was an opportunity to help shape the new president’s policies.
“The Forum, which is composed of some of America’s most highly respected and successful business leaders, will be called upon to meet with the president frequently to share their specific experience and knowledge as the president implements his plan to bring back jobs and Make America Great Again,” said a release announcing the formation of the council.
There was only one official meeting of the Forum on February 3, at which Trump promised “exciting times ahead” and said his administration was “coming out with a tax bill soon and a healthcare bill even sooner.”
Following the violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s initial reaction in which he said “many sides” were to blame for the events. His remarks prompted the demise of the council. Here’s a breakdown of how the council fell apart according to reports from CNBC’s Patti Domm and Dominic Chu and Bloomberg’s Melissa Mittelman, Jennifer Kaplan, Jing Cao, and Zachary Tracer:
- Sunday night: PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi began to ask other members about whether the Forum remained a good idea.Sunday night/Monday morning: General Motors CEO Mary Barra and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty joined Nooyi in calling the other members and gauging the reaction to Trump’s comments. Monday morning: Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier quits an unrelated council of manufacturing business leaders, prompting a wave of departures from that group and ramping up public pressure among the other members of Trump’s various business groups. Monday afternoon: Trump’s statement Monday condemning white supremacists and neo-Nazis cooled the nervousness of the Forum’s members. Tuesday afternoon: The straw that broke the camel’s back. Trump’s wild press conference walked back much of his statement from Monday and was seen by many as support for some members of the white nationalist protestors. “They were appalled by what has happened since Charlottesville and yesterday was the tripwire,” one Forum member told CNBC. Tuesday evening: Calls began again between members. Barra, Rometty, Nooyi, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink decided they will leave the Forum if it is not dissolved. Wednesday morning, around 3 a.m. ET: Schwarzman requested all Forum members join a conference call in the morning. Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. ET: On the call, the members agreed to end the council. As many as 10 of the 12 members on the council agreed. Wednesday afternoon: Schwarzman got in contact with the administration to inform them of the decision, according to Bloomberg the Blackstone CEO spoke with White House adviser Jared Kushner. Wednesday 1:14 p.m ET: Despite the CEOs coming to the agreement to disband the group themselves, Trump preempts a joint statement announcing the end of the council and tweets that it was his decision to end the Forum and the manufacturing council.
And so the first so-called CEO president lost the counsel of the leaders of some of the world’s most influential companies.
One member of the forum told Axios’ Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei the CEOs “couldn’t justify the capital they were spending, hoping that this guy can function in a somewhat mature and statesmanlike way.”
“Everyone knew, going in, that this was the way the guy was,” the executive told Axios. “They were just hoping that if he got the right people and decisionmaking processes in place, he could grow into the job. He proved he has no capability to do that.”
“There was such a firestorm. You don’t know what’s coming next or what he’s going to say or do next,” one Forum member told CNBC. “It’s striking when the president loses the confidence of America’s CEOs.”