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2017-08-16 13:58:02
Trump Ends C.E.O. Advisory Councils as Main Group Acts to Disband

President Trump’s main council of top corporate leaders disbanded on Wednesday following the president’s controversial remarks in which he equated white nationalist hate groups with the protesters opposing them. Soon after, the president announced on Twitter that he would end his executive councils, “rather than put pressure” on executives.

The quick sequence began late Wednesday morning when Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of the Blackstone Group and one of Mr. Trump’s closest confidants in the business community, organized a conference call for members of the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

On the call, the chief executives of some of the largest companies in the country debated how to proceed.

After a discussion among a dozen prominent C.E.O.s, the decision was made to abandon the group altogether, said people with knowledge of details of the call.

The council included Laurence D. Fink of BlackRock, Ginni Rometty of IBM, Rich Lesser of the Boston Consulting Group and Toby Cosgrove of the Cleveland Clinic, among others.

Before the president’s decision to dissolve the two councils, executive from his manufacturing council were expected to have a similar call Wednesday afternoon. The manufacturing panel has seen a wave of defections since Monday, as business chiefs who had agreed to advise the president determined that his remarks left them with no choice but to walk away.

Two additional chief executives — Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup and Inge Thulin of 3M — had announced Wednesday morning they would resign from the manufacturing council.

The defections left Mr. Trump all but isolated from the business leaders whose approval he covets.

Members of the advisory group had stood with the president in recent months even as he advanced policies they vehemently opposed, including tough immigration policies and withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord.

But the president’s equivocating in the wake of the outburst of white nationalist violence in Charlottesville was too much for the C.E.O.s to bear.

“He had put them in a very difficult position,” said Anat R. Admati, a professor of finance and economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “This has ruined his relationships with some of them.”

On Monday, after Mr. Trump’s initial response to the violence, Kenneth C. Frazier, the chief executive of drugmaker Merck, resigned from the manufacturing council. For much of the day Mr. Frazier was alone in his opposition, but that night, two more C.E.O.s, from Under Armour and Intel, left the same group.

Then on Tuesday, three leaders of labor and nonprofit business groups left the council. And in a rebuke to the president, the chief executive of Walmart made public a letter to employees in which is explicitly criticized Mr. Trump’s leadership.

Presidential advisory councils are largely ceremonial, meant to give the business community a line in with the White House. But in the Trump administration, the councils have become politically charged entities, as the executives in the groups have routinely been asked to defend the president’s unpopular opinions and policies.

Moreover, the panels have not been seen to be particularly effective. After a few high profile events for the groups early in the Mr. Trump’s presidency, there have been few meetings since, and none more are planned.

“So far they haven’t done much,” Ms. Admati said. “They had a few meetings with a bunch of fan fare, but it was more symbolic than anything else.”