Donald Trump has disbanded two key business advisory councils after a number of CEOs quit in protest over his defiant and increasingly mixed response to the violence at the Charlottesville protests.
"Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter. "Thank you all!"
Before that announcement was made, the councils were haemorrhaging CEOs. Earlier in the day, the CEO of Campbell Soup, Denise Morrison – who sat on the Manufacturing Council – had distanced her company from the White House, following less than an hour after 3M Chief Executive Inge Thulin announced he was also leaving his post on the same council and ditching Mr Trump. Those two followed in the footsteps of the CEOs of Merck, Under Armour, and Intel. Two leaders from the AFL-CIO and the president of a manufacturing industry group were also among those to leave the councils.
"Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville," Ms Morrison said upon her departure from the Manufacturing Council. "I believe the President should have been - and still needs to be - unambiguous on that point."
The resignations from the council came after Mr Trump refused to condemn white supremacists who conducted a rally in Charlottesville over the weekend – ostensibly to protest the removal of a Confederate statue – that descended into violence and led to the death of a counter protester when a car was driven at a crowd. There were 19 others who were injured by the vehicle, while the alleged driver has been charged with second-degree murder and a number of other charges.
Before Mr Trump's announcement of the disbandment, the Strategy and Policy Forum announced it was a joint decision to disband the council.
“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,' the group's statement read.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon released a separate statement saying he strongly disagreed with Mr Trump's recent statements, adding that “fanning divisiveness is not the answer”.
“Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country. It is a leader's role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart,” he said.
In the wake of the violence on Saturday, Mr Trump condemned the "display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides." Amid mounting criticism, the White then released a further statement on Sunday, attributed to a spokesperson, that said: "The President said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred... Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups."
Seemingly bowing to further pressure to denounce white nationalist groups directly, Mr Trump branded the white supremacists who take part in violence as “criminals and thugs” and called racism "evil" in a statement at the White House on Monday.
However, the President again rowed back on those comments on Tuesday, seemingly leaving his staff stunned.
"I think there's blame on both sides," Mr Trump said in a press conference in which he went off script to talk about the reaction to Monday. "What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?"
Reporters were quick to note that "alt-left" was not a recognised group.
Reports surfaced following the statement on Tuesday that White House staff and advisers weren't aware that the President was going to address the issue, and had instead been scheduled to only speak about his infrastructure executive order – the purpose for the gathering of the press - which he said would eliminate red tape for construction in the United States.
Following the remarks, some in the administration are pondering what it might mean if top-level White House officials began abandoning Mr Trump as well.
"If you have some high-profile individuals leaving, you may have a whole host of high-profile individuals leaving," an anonymous source told Reuters.
Just a day before disbanding the two councils, Mr Trump also appeared defiant about the slew of resignations he was receiving.
"For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place," he tweeted. "Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!"
Mr Trump set up the advisory council in January to much fanfare, toting his career as a successful businessman before running for president as one of his prime qualifications to run the country. Mr Trump promised then that he would seek out the advice of business leaders in the pursuit of a stronger economy that creates jobs and boosts America's wealth.
But the council began seeing troubles fairly quickly, when the high-profile tech entrepreneur Elon Musk resigned from the advisory board in protest of Mr Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. Mr Musk is the CEO and founder of companies including Tesla and SpaceX.
"Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world," Mr Musk tweeted at the time.
Still, the President contends that things have been pretty good for business since he took over the Oval Office. He regularly notes that the stock market has repeatedly hit all-time highs under his oversight, and complains that the news media doesn't cover that fact. Meanwhile, observers note that the stock market has hit all-time highs in 30 of the last 54 months.
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