Politics

Yale's Sonnenfeld says CEOs may stop supporting Republicans who back Trump election challenge

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Key Points
  • Business leaders want to spread the message that "it's time to move on and respect the Constitution," Yale's Jeffrey Sonnenfeld told CNBC.
  • More than two dozen CEOs gathered Tuesday at a virtual conference to discuss Republican objections to Joe Biden's presidential victory.
  • "We haven't seen them put the money where their mouth is previously, and that's a big change," Sonnenfeld said.
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New CEO survey on public officials denying election results

Yale School of Management's Jeffrey Sonnenfeld told CNBC on Tuesday that more than two dozen CEOs are considering pulling financial support for congressional Republicans who are backing President Donald Trump's election challenge.

Sonnenfeld's comments on "Closing Bell" came after he hosted a virtual conference earlier in the day that included 33 chief executives. It comes about two months after Sonnenfeld convened a similar gathering focused on Trump's response to the Nov. 3 presidential election.

In a survey of CEOs on his call, Sonnenfeld said 100% of respondents answered "yes" to the following question: Should CEOs warn lobbyists privately that their firms will no longer support election result deniers in Congress?

By doing so, Sonnenfeld said the business leaders hoped to spread the message that "it's time to move on and respect the Constitution." He said participants in the gathering, who were granted anonymity, ranged from finance to manufacturing to the pharmaceutical industry.

Tuesday's call took place one day before Congress is set to certify Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory. In past years, it has been seen as a formality. However, numerous Republicans in the House and Senate plan to raise objections Wednesday to Biden's win.

"The GOP acting this way, these GOP members, are certainly not the voice of American business large or small, so they're talking about cutting off support," Sonnenfeld said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has urged Republican senators not to challenge the process, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., who is leading a group of 11 senators who plan to object to the certification process did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who also said he plans to object.

Trump has refused to concede, repeatedly and falsely claiming he would have won the election if not for widespread voter fraud. There is no evidence to support his assertions, and courts across the U.S. have dismissed legal challenges brought by Trump's campaign. Even so, Trump said Monday he intended to  "fight like hell" to retain the presidency.

Sonnenfeld said the CEOs have been alarmed by Trump's handling of his defeat and want to send an even firmer message than in November. "In the past, the concerns had a lot more to do with making a clear statement," he said. For example, he pointed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce congratulating Biden on the same day major news organizations projected him as president-elect.

"We haven't seen them put the money where their mouth is previously, and that's a big change," Sonnenfeld said, when asked whether business leaders would actually act on their suggestion of forgoing future support for Republicans who are trying to impede Biden's victory.

A central concern for business leaders is that Republican objections to Biden's victory may be a harbinger of contentiousness once Biden is sworn in later this month, according to Sonnenfeld.

"There are other areas of great mutual interest, you would think, between the parties, and [CEOs] are hoping that we can make progress on it," Sonnenfeld said, such as U.S.-China relations. "They're trying to get past the flame throwing, the tweets and make actual progress, and they're really worried about a Congress that is acting in this divisive of a way."