Trump disbands business councils amid Charlottesville backlash

Trump says 'both sides' are to blame for Charlottesville violence

During a press conference about infrastructure held at Trump Tower on Aug. 15, President Donald Trump said that “both sides,” including the “alt-left” were to blame for the violent rally in Charlottesville, VA.
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During a press conference about infrastructure held at Trump Tower on Aug. 15, President Donald Trump said that “both sides,” including the “alt-left” were to blame for the violent rally in Charlottesville, VA.

In a move that disconnects him from business leaders who have backed his economic agenda, President Donald Trump on Wednesday scrapped two advisory groups in the wake of CEO departures spurred by his comments about the riots in Charlottesville, Va.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that he was ending both his Manufacturing Council and his Strategic and Policy Forum “rather than putting pressure” on their members, adding: “Thank you all!”

The pronouncement came as members of the Strategic and Policy Forum, which included CEOs from IBM and JPMorgan Chase, were already moving to disband, the New York Times reported. The timing of the move is problematic for the White House, which wants corporate support for tax cuts and infrastructure investments.

The manufacturing council had begun losing members after Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of drug company Merck, resigned Monday. Others to leave included Kevin Plank, CEO of athletic apparel maker Under Armour. That had earned him praise from Steph Curry, the two-time NBA MVP and former Davidson College star who grew up in Charlotte and who has been critical of Trump.

John Ferriola, the CEO of Charlotte-based steel maker Nucor, had remained on the Manufacturing Council, although the company told the Observer Monday it condemned the violence in Charlottesville and rejects “the hate, bigotry, and racism expressed at the demonstration.”

Nucor “has engaged with several administrations to work on policies that help strengthen the U.S. manufacturing sector and provide opportunities for American workers,” the company said Monday. The company had no further comment Wednesday.

Trump declared anew Tuesday “there is blame on both sides” for the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, appearing to once again equate the actions of white supremacist groups and those protesting them. He had also ripped the CEOs who had distanced themselves from the White House.

“They’re not taking their job seriously as it pertains to this country,” the president said at an impromptu news conference Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York City.

Trump’s move Wednesday came after Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, organized a conference call for members of the Strategic and Policy Forum, according to the New York Times. After the discussion, the decision was made to abandon the group, the Times reported, citing people with knowledge of the call.

“Intolerance, racism and violence have absolutely no place in this country and are an affront to core American values,” the council said in a statement obtained by the Observer. “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.”

Among the forum’s former members, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon sent a memo to employees Wednesday saying he strongly disagreed with Trump’s reaction to events in Charlottesville.

“There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned and has no place in a country that draws strength from our diversity and humanity,” he wrote.

Before the president’s announcement, executives from the Manufacturing Council were expected to have a similar call Wednesday afternoon, the Times reported. Two additional chief executives – Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup and Inge Thulin of 3M – had announced Wednesday morning they would resign from the group.

The Associated Press and New York Times contributed.