WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump huddled with General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and several other top executives of major U.S. companies on Friday as the business community finds itself increasingly split over how to respond to his policies.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on Thursday quit the business leaders’ group, a panel selected by Trump in December, under pressure from activists over Trump’s week-old executive order halting travel to the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Business leaders said afterward that the group discussed bank rules, tax reform, and objections to Trump’s week-old ban.
Executives from Ford Motor Co. and Tesla also criticized Trump’s travel ban, but other advisory group members, including GM and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have not taken a position.
Trump previously met with executives from the U.S. pharmaceutical and auto industries as part of a push to step up U.S. job creation.
“I’m pleased to have been part of a very constructive discussion on how we can all work together on policies that support a strong and competitive U.S. economy, create jobs and address safety and environmental issues,” Barra said in a statement. “As we have stated, a vibrant U.S. economy that is competitive globally and that grows jobs is what we all want.”
During the meeting, homeland Security Secretary John Kelly delivered an update to the corporate leaders on the travel restrictions, which caused chaos at major U.S. airports and are now facing court challenges.
“There was obviously concern by different people and explanations and that issue had to be covered and was covered,” Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who leads the advisory group, said on Fox Business.
U.S. companies of all political stripes want Trump, a Republican, to fulfill a campaign pledge to slash corporate taxes, but a schism has developed over how to do it.
The splits highlight business leaders’ struggles to navigate a divisive political environment and a new president who does not hesitate to use his platform against companies that vex him.
The businessman-turned-politician has threatened companies that manufacture in Mexico with a 20 percent tax on imports and needled pharmaceutical executives to make more drugs in the U.S. On Thursday, he publicly cheered South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. for saying it might build a U.S. plant for its home appliances business.
Some investors want companies to speak up.
“I certainly don’t think investors want people who run corporate America to be afraid of making smart business decisions,” Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, said in an interview on Thursday.
The sharpest outcry about Trump’s travel restrictions, which caused chaos and protests at U.S. airports last weekend, came from tech companies, which have broad concerns about his immigration plans.
Uber criticized the ban but took heat from activists when its chief competitor, Lyft, appeared more vocal on the issue.
“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president,” Kalanick said in a memo explaining why he left Trump’s advisory panel.
Musk had said before the meeting he would raise concerns with Trump about the travel crackdown.
Musk said in a tweet on Thursday: “In tomorrow’s meeting, I and others will express our objections to the recent executive order on immigration and offer suggestions for changes to the policy.”
The White House said in a statement on Thursday evening that did not mention Uber that Trump “understands the importance of an open dialogue with fellow business leaders to discuss how to best make our nation’s economy stronger.”
A more complicated division is developing over taxes. Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. on Thursday joined a group in support of a congressional plan to tax all imports. But that plan, which does not have universal support among Republicans, is opposed by many U.S. retailers, including Toyota Motor Corp., which say it could raise prices for consumers.
Republican leaders say tax reform is a top priority, but they have acknowledged it could take until the end of 2017 or longer to finish legislation.
“If I were a company, I’d be worried about tax reform,” said Bernie Williams, chief investment officer at USAA Investment Solutions, in San Antonio.
The White House meeting with the group, which also includes leaders of the Cleveland Clinic, PepsiCo and IBM, is set to cover tax and trade, regulatory relief and infrastructure.
Source: Automotive News