Former Wal-Mart US CEO: I'd probably figure out a way to work with Trump

  • Now that CEOs have abandoned President Donald Trump, the most concerning thing is what will happen with the president's agenda, former Wal-Mart US CEO Bill Simon said.
  • "Where do we go from here? We still need tax reform. We still need health care reform," he said.
  • Now, Trump doesn't have the best assets, he added.

Now that CEOs have abandoned President Donald Trump, the most concerning thing is what will happen with Trump's agenda, former Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Bill Simon told CNBC on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Trump's Strategy & Policy Forum decided to disband and condemn the president's controversial response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Soon after the news broke, Trump said he decided to dissolve the group, as well as his manufacturing council.

"Where do we go from here? We still need tax reform. We still need health-care reform. We still need to run this country and now they don't have a seat at the table and now the president doesn't have the best assets ... to move forward," Simon said in an interview with "Closing Bell."

"I wouldn't go to dinner with him but I would probably figure out a way to work with him," Simon added, noting that he is in no way defending what Trump said.

Business leaders and Republicans have been distancing themselves from Trump since his response to the rally. One person was killed and 19 others were injured when a suspected white nationalist rammed a car into counterprotesters.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Trump reiterated his initial response that "both sides" were to blame for the violence. He also defended the protest and contended that some of the individuals carrying torches did not have bad intentions.

"The fact that the president makes insensitive remarks and does it on a frequent basis without thinking is not new news. He's done that all through the campaign. They knew that when they joined the council," Simon said.

What Trump said can't be condoned, forgiven or understood, Simon said, but he doesn't think the country can stand 3½ years of inactivity on major policy issues.

And now, the president doesn't have the counsel of some of the best in the business.

"If good people don't engage, we're left with people who aren't as good as the ones who were originally selected."

Steve Odland, former CEO of Office Depot, also is concerned about that lack of engagement.

He told "Closing Bell" the dissolution of the advisory groups was "disappointing" because they were working on things like trade, taxes and health care.

"You've got all of these very important issues where the business leaders are driving it," he said. "So to have the business leaders withdraw at a point in time when we need them the most is very discouraging, especially when you've got an administration with a lot of empty seats and without a lot of input that they need."

Odland thinks corporate leaders should avoid taking political positions, and instead focus strictly on policy positions.

"They should do that regardless of whether we have a Democratic president or whether we have a Republican president, he said. "They should stay engaged."

— CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

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