Charlottesville Fiasco Further Imperils Trump’s Agenda

Implosion of business councils, dismay among GOP lawmakers, and sinking polls threaten tax reform

The collapse of President Donald Trump’s business councils will take away a powerful and useful tool the White House could have used to push tax reform in what is shaping up to be a miserable final four months of the president’s first legislative year.

The CEOs, many of whom left to protest Trump’s remarks about the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, would have been powerful voices to convince Congress and the public that change is needed in the tax code and across the regulatory state.

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As CEOs began to resign, Trump ended the steady bleeding by terminating his short-lived Manufacturing Council, and the Strategy and Policy Forum.

Some believe the termination of the councils shows Trump has become too hot to handle — imperiling his legislative priorities.

“The resignations from the business councils matter only in that it shows that Fortune 500 CEOs believe Trump is radioactive right now,” said Matt Mackowiak, the president of Potomac Strategy Group and a Republican county chairman in Austin, Texas. “That will make engaging their companies on policy matters like tax reform, regulations and immigration even harder.”

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Had this not been the August recess, Trump’s legislative agenda likely would have been in greater jeopardy. The storm could subside by the time members of Congress return to Washington, D.C.

But in the short term, the controversy shows no signs of abating. Powerful business interests scolded Trump, including a Walmart executive and Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase.

Dimon didn’t hold back, saying it was almost “embarrassing” to be a U.S. citizen, in remarks made in a conference call.

In a written statement, Dimon said, “It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart.”

The remarks follow the departure from Trump’s manufacturing council of GE Chairman Jeff Immelt; Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson; and Gregory Hayes, the CEO of United Technologies.

One Trump critic said he didn’t think the departures meant much, except to show the companies are now isolated from Trump.

“I see their quitting as public relations,” said Andrew Malcolm, a conservative columnist for McClatchy. “Not sure even many of their stockholders care one way or the other if the execs choose to forfeit a seat and voice at the presidential table, which they happily accepted after previous Trump outrages.  Now that the commissions are disbanded, everyone loses a seat and voice. How to make a president’s thinking even more isolated.”

The Manufacturing Council had never met once since Trump assembled it. Its one advantage was to show the public that business was on Trump’s side — particularly in the coming battle for tax reform.

“I’m afraid [tax reform] faces the same dubious fate as Obamacare repeal given the professed ideological chasms within the squabbling GOP,” said Malcolm. “If by a miracle some kind of tax reform, even just tax cuts, makes it through, I expect these pouting chief execs to react the same as any profit-minded capitalists would. To embrace the money and conveniently forget Charlottesville.”

Mackowiak believes to truly right the legislative course and regain favor with Congress, Trump must apologize. But Trump rarely, if ever, apologizes.

“Trump has made a terrible mess here, and I’m not sure this is fixable,” said Mackowiak. “He would need to fully atone for his comments, rebuke these individuals and their movement, and reject the moral equivalence, all while admitting that he knows he has messed up. He would need to ask the public for forgiveness. It’s hard to imagine him doing this, even if he were able. What worries me most is whether there will be more racial violence ahead.”

(photo credit, homepage images: Gage Skidmore/Steve Jurvetson, Flickr; photo credit, article images: Gage Skidmore/World Economic forum, Flickr)

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Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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