Update: President Donald Trump has since tweeted that he will end both the Manufacturing Council and a separate Strategy & Policy Forum, amid several other CEO resignations and reports the Forum would disband of their own accord.
Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017
- Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of Merck & Co., has resigned from President Donald Trump's manufacturing council, citing personal conscience in a statement posted Monday morning on Twitter.
- Frazier's resignation followed a tepid response from the White House to violent protests by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend.
- "American'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," Frazier's statement said.
Trump was widely criticized over the weekend for failing to specifically denounce the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who gathered on Saturday in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statute of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. More than a dozen people were injured and one woman was killed when a man linked with the rally drove a car directly into a crowd of pedestrians.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides," Trump said in remarks given from Bedminster, N.J.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle took issue with his reluctance to single out the supremacist groups who held the rally.
Frazier, who is one of the few black CEOs of a large corporation in the U.S., had participated in the manufacturing council since its creation in late January. His resignation from the group is not the first: Tesla CEO Elon Musk left following President Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate accord in June.
But Frazier's departure is one of the first major signs of American corporations moving to distance themselves from the White House's response to the protests in Charlottesville. So far, no other business leader on the council — which also includes fellow pharma CEO Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson — appears to have followed Frazier's lead in resigning from the group.
President Trump almost immediately lashed out against Frazier's decision to resign, saying the departure would give Merck more time to lower drug prices — an issue on which the White House has recently been silent after vocal criticism by Trump during the onset of his presidency.
Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
Trump's mention of drug prices raises the question of whether he will put new emphasis on a stalled executive order that was drafted in June, but has yet to materialize as other issues have taken precedence. Yet that order (at least as it was first put together) is largely friendly to the industry and doesn't push hard to check drugmakers' freedom to raise drug prices, according to The New York Times.
Earlier in the year, harsh language from the president on drug prices sunk industry stocks, as investors worried about the prospect of tougher regulation. Yet the effect of Trump's criticisms has waned as time has progressed. Merck shares were up a little less than 1% Monday morning, while the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index traded higher by about the same percentage change.