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Trump Announces End To Manufacturing Council After Multiple CEOs Resign


When Donald Trump was running for president, he said people should vote for him because of his great success in business. But this week, business leaders have been deserting him. They've quit White House advisory councils following the president's comments on the racial violence in Charlottesville. So Trump says he's disbanding the councils.

Joining us to talk about this is NPR business correspondent Jim Zarroli. Jim, I understand this was announced via tweet. Did the president give a reason for disbanding these business councils?

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Yeah. He said he was dismantling these councils - you know, the Strategic Policy Forum and also his manufacturing council - because he wanted to take the pressure off the CEOs who sat on them. I think the real story is probably more like, you know, the councils weren't going to survive anyway because too many of the chief executives were leaving.

You know, after the president's response to Charlottesville, you had the CEO of Merck, Ken Frazier, leaving. And then one by one, a lot of the others left - Intel, Under Armour. Today the CEO of Campbell Soup left. And then The Wall Street Journal reported today that the Strategic and Policy Forum had a conference call this morning, and a majority of the members were ready to quit. So I think it was only a matter of time before the councils would have collapsed anyway.

CORNISH: Honestly, what did these boards do? I mean what role were they supposed to play in the administration?

ZARROLI: Yeah. Good question. The presidents have traditionally had advisory boards like this. And you know, sometimes they've been really - they've played a significant role. Under the - during the financial crisis, President Obama had financier Steve Rattner serve as the lead adviser on the presidential task force on the auto industry. And he actually became a pretty important voice on how to save the auto industry.

Now, under President Trump, the Strategic and Policy Forum, for example, was supposed to advise the president on how government policy affects job creation and economic growth. And it met once or twice. And you had, you know, these big photo ops with the president sitting down at a long table with people like, you know, the CEOs of IBM and Pepsi and so on and then, you know, pretty much the same thing with the manufacturing council.

I think from Trump's perspective, they - you know, the White House wanted to send a message that, you know, they're business friendly. They're ready to listen to corporate leaders, to do business with them. And all this was part of their effort to make the economy grow faster. But of course, you know, they didn't really have time to do very much, and now they're not going to do anything.

CORNISH: What does the president's disbanding of these councils suggest about his relationship with corporate leaders?

ZARROLI: Well, these councils don't have any power to set policy. You know, you have to say the symbolism is pretty remarkable because you have this president who, you know, came to office talking about his business skills. But he wasn't able to, you know, hold these boards together - you know, people that he picked to serve on them.

I think from the vantage point of the CEOs, a lot of them maybe don't care much for Trump personally. They really haven't from the beginning. But at the end of the day, they can't afford not to work with him. He's the president. He has a lot of power over policy. You know, yesterday, after Merck's CEO quit, Trump sent out this tweet attacking him. And you know, when Trump is attacked, he attacks back. I think no corporate CEO wants to be in that position. And also, you know, they like Trump's agenda - tax cuts and so on. And they want him to succeed even if they don't like his rhetoric.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Jim Zarroli. Jim, thank you.

ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.

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