Politics

CEOs who quit Trump advisory boards after Charlottesville now among his dinner guests

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump's small dinner for business leaders on Tuesday night include an unusual type of guest for Trump: People who have publicly criticized him.
  • Several of the CEOs attending the dinner resigned from Trump advisory boards in August of 2017, after Trump said protesters were partly to blame for violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
  • Additional guests on Tuesday include major Republican donors. The White House says Trump wants to hear guests' "priorities and thoughts" for the coming year.
President Donald Trump (C) delivers opening remarks during a meeting with Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images

President Donald Trump's small dinner for business leaders on Tuesday night included an unusual type of guest for a president who is known to hold grudges: People who have publicly distanced themselves from Trump.

Specifically, five CEOs of major U.S. companies, who all publicly dissolved their ties to the Trump White House nearly a year ago this week. The break was prompted by Trump's public insistence that both protesters and white nationalists were to blame for a deadly white supremacist rally Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Va.

Within days of the rally and Trump's comments, CEOs had resigned en masse from positions on specially appointed White House advisory councils. The councils folded, but not before Trump labeled the CEOs who publicly spoke out against him as "grandstanders."

A year later, and the damage that Charlottesville caused to Trump's relationships with business leaders appears to be healing, although there are no signs that the president's views about the rally have changed.

Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo and Mark Weinberger, the CEO of EY were both original members of Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, which was dissolved in the wake of his comments on Charlottesville. On Tuesday, they were on the guest list to dine with the president at Trump's private golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

In August of last year, Nooyi wrote on Twitter that she was "heartbroken" by the violence at the white nationalist rally. She also reportedly spearheaded efforts to dissolve the council, behind the scenes. Weinberger also spoke out in August of last year, calling the violence in Charlottesville "deplorable" in a statement that did not mention Trump by name. Representatives for the companies did not respond to questions from CNBC about whether their CEOs' views of Trump have changed since they quit the council.

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Trump to host dinner with business leaders in Bedminster, NJ

In addition to the policy forum group, Trump also created a Manufacturing Advisory Council, whose members included the chief executives of companies like Boeing, International Paper and Johnson & Johnson.

The manufacturing council was also disbanded in August of 2017, following a wave of public resignations from its CEO members in the wake of Charlottesville.

One of these came from Alex Gorsky, who leads Johnson & Johnson. Gorsky called Trump's response to the rally "unacceptable," and said in a statement that it "has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council." Nonetheless, Gorsky is on the guest list Tuesday for dinner at Bedminster. A spokesman for the company did not respond to a request for comment.

Gorsky was one of three executives at the dinner Tuesday who formerly served on Trump's manufacturing council. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and International Paper chief Mark Sutton were also part of the group, but they both kept a low profile in the immediate aftermath of the Charlottesville rally.

Not everyone at Trump's dinner party was a creature of Wall Street, however. Some, like shale oil billionaire Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, have proven themselves in the past year to be unflinchingly loyal to Trump and the GOP.

Despite having been passed over for a job as Trump's secretary of Energy, Hamm took the reins earlier this year as chairman of the number one pro-Trump nonprofit group, America First Policies. Between January and March, the group and its affiliated Super PAC raised $15 million, much of it destined for efforts that will benefit GOP candidates in the November midterm elections..

Another CEO slated to attend Tuesday's dinner who is also committed to helping Republicans win elections this fall is FedEx's Fred Smith. Earlier this year, Smith donated $100,000 to two Republican congressional committees.

Representatives for FedEx and Continental Resources, the company Hamm leads, did not respond to requests for comment.

The White House said in a statement Tuesday that the purpose of the dinner is to create "an opportunity for the President to hear how the economy is doing from [the CEOs'] perspective and what their priorities and thoughts are for the year ahead."

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Members of Trump's cybersecurity council resign in protest