CEOs revolt against Trump over Charlottesville

Leaders of the business world staged a remarkable revolt against President Trump on Wednesday, forcing the White House to disband two economic councils that were hemorrhaging members.

Shortly after news broke early Wednesday that CEOs were ending a White House strategy forum, Trump sought to save face, saying in a tweet that he was ending two councils to spare business leaders from the public pressure they were facing.

But the CEOs who left the councils would not let Trump have the final word.

In a flurry of statements, CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, GE, Johnson & Johnson and 3M lined up to rebuke Trump for Tuesday remarks where he asserted equivalence between white supremacists and counterprotesters and said there were "very fine people" at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“Racism, intolerance and violence is always wrong,” said Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase president who had served on of one of the councils. “There is no room for equivocation here.”

Trump said Wednesday afternoon that he would end the separate Manufacturing Advisory Council and Strategic and Policy Forum he convened to advise him on economic policy. 

Eleven business leaders and CEOs had already quit Trump's councils by the time of his announcement, eight of them leaving this week over his response to Charlottesville. Had the president not disbanded the forums, the exodus would have surely continued.

Trump ignited a firestorm Saturday when he condemned “violence on many sides” after one person died and 19 were injured when a car was driven into a group of counterprotesters. Ohio native James Alex Fields Jr., the alleged driver of the car, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

The evening before the attack, white supremacists had marched through Charlottesville with tiki torches, at one point chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Many on hand for the “Unite the Right” rally identified openly with the KKK and white supremacist groups.

Trump’s decision not to explicitly condemn white supremacist groups on Saturday — which he defended Tuesday as necessary to get all the facts — prompted the CEO of Merck to resign from the White House’s American Manufacturing Council on Monday. Several other CEOs followed suit.

Trump slammed the executives and said he’d replace them.

“For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!” he tweeted.

But Trump’s extended remarks on Charlottesville on Tuesday proved to be a tipping point, turning the trickle of departures into a stampede. 

On a Wednesday morning conference call organized by Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone Group and a close Trump adviser, members of Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum — which had included some of the corporate world’s biggest names — decided they’d had enough.

Members of the strategy panel called the debate over forum participation “a distraction from our well-intentioned and sincere desire to aid vital policy discussions on how to improve the lives of everyday Americans.” 

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

GE CEO Jeff Immelt said he left Trump’s manufacturing council because of Trump’s “deeply troubling” remarks, adding, "There would be no GE without people of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations.”

GE was one of several companies that had pledged to stay on the panels after Trump’s initial remarks, only to leave after Trump dug in on Tuesday.

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky quit the economic forum and explicitly rebuked Trump’s “unacceptable” statements. 

“The President’s most recent statements equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred is unacceptable and has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council,” Gorsky said.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said in a Wednesday letter to employees that she had joined Trump’s strategy council because “dialogue is critical to progress,” but that “this group can no longer serve the purpose for which it was formed.”

“The despicable conduct of hate groups in Charlottesville last weekend, and the violence and death that resulted from it, shows yet again that our nation needs to focus on unity, inclusion, and tolerance,” Rometty said. “Earlier today I spoke with other members of the Forum and we agreed to disband the group.”

Trump’s two panels were intended to show the businessman-turned-president working with corporate giants to grow the economy, restore American manufacturing and create jobs. Most advice was informal, and neither committee met frequently.

But the growing tensions between Trump and the business community come at an inopportune time, with Republicans seeking to craft a sweeping plan to cut taxes, a long-sought goal for the GOP and corporate America. 

Republicans have attempted to move past the billowing investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia and their failed efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act to make a major push behind tax reform.

Trump campaigned on cutting personal and corporate taxes to boost economic growth, earning praise from business groups skeptical of his controversial immigration policies and fearful of his inflammatory statements. So far, the White House and congressional leaders have only united around a set of common principles and lack a formal proposal. 

"You tell me what he needs to say so we can move beyond this," Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins GOP senator: Harley-Davidson is right to move some production overseas GOP senator: Trump’s policies doing 'permanent damage' MORE (R-Wis.) told reporters Wednesday, according to The Capital Times. “I want to work on these enormous problems, these challenges facing our nation,” referring to tax reform and cutting back financial regulation.

Niv Elis and Ali Breland contributed.