By Jena McGregor
In a tweet Tuesday morning, President Trump said he has other chief executives ready to succeed the “grandstanders” who stepped down from his manufacturing council in the aftermath of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va.
“For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place,” the president tweeted. “Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!”
The tweet follows the high-profile departures Monday of Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich from the president’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, formed in January. After Trump’s tweet Tuesday, Scott Paul, the president of the nonpartisan organization Alliance for American Manufacturing, who was also a member of the council, said he would be leaving, too. “I’m resigning from the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative because it’s the right thing for me to do,” Paul wrote in a tweet.
The resignations follow an outcry over Trump’s initial response to the protests led by white supremacist groups that turned violent in Charlottesville over the weekend. Many critics questioned why Trump had not, in his initial response, explicitly named neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan or white nationalist groups in his early condemnations, criticizing the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” repeating “on many sides.”
On Monday afternoon, following pressure from activists and politicians from both parties, he did specifically name the groups in a statement given at the White House. “ Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” the president said.
On social media, the debate over whether the CEOs should remain or go from the councils flared as some tweeted lists of which CEOs had and had not departed the council. Some directly appealed to corporate and CEO Twitter accounts, asking them to leave, or they shared the hashtag #QuittheCouncil, a campaign by the online civil rights organization Color for Change.
Before his Tuesday tweet, Trump had fired back at Frazier and the pharmaceutical giant twice Monday, but had not posted messages to Twitter that directly responded to the decisions by Plank or Krzanich. Less than an hour after Merck tweeted a statement from Frazier announcing his departure, Trump wrote that the pharmaceutical executive would now “have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES.” Then Monday evening, he returned with another message criticizing Merck and higher drug prices.
The AFL-CIO’s president Richard Trumka, who is also a member of Trump’s manufacturing council, denounced the actions of protesters in a statement Monday, saying “we are aware of the decisions by other members of the President’s Manufacturing Council, which has yet to hold any real meeting, and are assessing our role. While the AFL-CIO will remain a powerful voice for the freedoms of working people, there are real questions into the effectiveness of this council to deliver real policy that lifts working families.”
A number of other chief executives who are members of Trump’s councils made statements that condemned hate, racism and violence, or called out their companies’ commitment to tolerance, but said they would be remaining onboard. Companies such as General Electric, Dow Chemical, Dell and Whirlpool all said they would remain. “With more than 100,000 employees in the United States, it is important for GE to participate in the discussion on how to drive growth and productivity in the U.S.,” GE chairman Jeffrey R. Immelt said in a statement.
Those who decided to depart gave different reasons for doing so. Frazier cited a “matter of personal conscience,” noting he felt “a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.” Under Armour’s Plank, who had come under fire in the past for supportive comments about Trump’s agenda made on CNBC, said on Twitter that “I am stepping down from the council to focus on inspiring & uniting through power of sport,” saying in a statement that “Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”
Intel’s Krzanich wrote that “I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues,” saying he made the decision “because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them.”