August 15, 2017

Trump further criticizes Merck after feud over Charlottesville reaction

Daily Briefing

Four CEOs of major companies, including Merck CEO and Chair Kenneth Frazier, have resigned from President Trump's American Manufacturing Council, citing Trump's response to recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

About the Charlottesville, Va. demonstrations

On Saturday, self-identified white nationalists and "alt-right" supporters held a "Unite the Right" rally to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-protestors demonstrated against the rally. During the protest on Saturday, a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman—Heather Heyer—and injuring 19 others. Attorney General Jeff Sessions characterized the attack as "domestic terrorism."

At an initial news conference following Heyer's death, Trump told reporters, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country. ... It has no place in America."

According to NPR's "The Two-Way," some observers criticized Trump's initial comments for not explicitly condemning the far right and white nationalists.

Merck CEO resigns from Trump's manufacturing council; Trump pushes back

Frazier early Monday morning tweeted about his decision to step down from Trump's council, writing, "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal."

In response to Frazier's announcement, Trump tweeted, "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

Monday afternoon, Trump held a press conference during which he more explicitly denounced the white-supremacist movement. Trump stated, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God." He added, "Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."

Monday evening Trump again targeted Merck, tweeting, ".@Merck Pharma is a leader in higher & higher drug prices while at the same time taking jobs out of the U.S. Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!"

That same night, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank separately announced they too would resign from the manufacturing council. In addition, Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul on Tuesday tweeted that he would also step down from the council. According to the Journal, other CEOs who serve on the council issued statements condemning the "Unite the Right" rally, but said they would continue to serve on the panel.

Business leaders react; Merck stock largely unaffected

According to the Washington Post, several health care leaders commented on the events, with some commenting on Trump's response to this weekend's violence and others expressing support for Frazier.

Roy Vagelos, a former chair and CEO at Merck, said, "I applaud [Frazier's] decision to step down from the Council," adding that Frazier "is driven by a strong sense of morality in everything he does and he continues to make me proud."

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said, "Leaders need to call out racism and hatred when they see it. That's for health care leaders or any other leader. It affects our health. It's one of those social determinants."

Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson on Monday tweeted, "The President should consistently demonstrate zero tolerance for white supremacy, neo-Nazi groups. We must be unwavering."

In contrast, some observers criticized Frazier for undermining Trump, the Post reports.

Merck's stock did not appear to change as a result of the controversy. According to The Hill, Merck's shares were up by about 1 percent shortly after Frazier's announcement on Monday (Loftus, Wall Street Journal, 8/15; Hanna et al., CNN, 8/13; Chappell/McCallister, "The Two-Way," NPR, 8/14; Daily Beast, 8/14;  McCaskill, Politico, 8/14; Hellmann, The Hill, 8/14; Nather, "Vitals," Axios, 8/15; Johnson/McGregor, Washington Post, 8/14; Lane, The Hill, 8/14; Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, 8/15).

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