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Donald Trump meets with CEOs but he rarely takes their advice

Flanked by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman (L) and General Motors CEO Mary Barra (R), U.S. President Donald Trump holds a strategy and policy forum with chief executives of major U.S. companies at the White House in Washington February 3, 2017.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Flanked by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman (L) and General Motors CEO Mary Barra (R), U.S. President Donald Trump holds a strategy and policy forum with chief executives of major U.S. companies at the White House in Washington February 3, 2017.

Donald Trump's CEOs are getting more listening practice than influence. The U.S. president loves to hobnob with corporate chiefs, but his meetings have been largely a one-way street. Executives can claim some impact on China policy but not yet on immigration, and they got stiffed on climate. The White House forums are still useful.

U.S. leaders have long tapped CEOs for advice, but the self-styled CEO president has taken it to a new level. Trump attends each gathering for on-camera remarks and relishes chumming around with the likes of JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon, former GE chief Jeff Immelt and Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman. At a meeting of tech executives on Monday, Trump jovially claimed that since his election the stock market's capitalization had grown as much as the $3.5 trillion in value represented in the room.

On issues where they agree, such as regulatory reform, there is a symbiotic relationship. The energy and financial sectors have applauded his push to overhaul rules overseeing their industries. The corporate world also supports tax reform. CEOs are urging the administration to not get bogged down by the details, such as a border adjustment tax.

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But on issues where they aren't already on the same page, Trump has gone his own way. The Paris climate accord was a stark example. Despite impassioned pleas by IBM's Ginni Rometty and others, Trump announced in June he was pulling out of the deal. Most CEOs stayed on his councils even though many criticized the Paris move.

On immigration, Apple's Tim Cook on Monday pressed Trump on visas for highly skilled foreign workers. The president said he supports comprehensive immigration reform, but he also told corporate chiefs in April: "We are going to be very, very careful on the environment." The long-term fate of children of illegal immigrants in the Dreamers program, which is still under review, will be another test of CEO influence.

They have made some progress in tempering the White House's views on a few issues, including on China. The administration has yet to follow through on imposing high tariffs on Beijing and declined to name it a currency manipulator.

The CEO forums are still worth the time, given the insights gained into the administration's thinking. The White House views on tax reform, infrastructure spending and other issues help company chiefs and their clients prepare for them. It's a major reason to keep riding on the one-way street.

Commentary by Gina Chon, a Washington columnist at Breakingviews. Follow her on Twitter @GinaChon.

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