President Trump disbanded two of his economic advisory councils Wednesday, faced with the embarrassing resignations of numerous business leaders amid rising condemnation over his comments about violence at a white nationalist rally and a liberal pressure campaign.
Mr. Trump abruptly announced that he was shuttering the business groups just after news broke that one of them, the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum chaired by Blackstone CEO and Trump confidante Stephen Schwarzman, intended to disband on its own.
Mr. Trump tweeted:
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
Eight members of the president’s American Manufacturing Council also had quit since Monday. Progressive groups took credit for flooding the CEOs’ companies with thousands of phone calls to pressure them to dissociate from Mr. Trump.
“It doesn’t pay to stand with hate, and consumers across America gave the corporate world a wake-up call today,” said John Burton, a former Obama administration official who works for the group Daily Action. “Consumers today have more choices than ever, and they are demanding greater corporate responsibility — or they will take their business elsewhere.”
The advisory councils were largely ceremonial. But the awkward shuttering of the groups that Mr. Trump created with fanfare just a few months ago showed how the president’s rhetoric on race has made him increasingly radioactive to corporate chiefs, a relationship that is supposed to be one of Mr. Trump’s strongest points in his push for an economic revival and tax reform.
It was the most obvious rebuke on another brutal day for Mr. Trump, who on Tuesday asserted that there were “fine people” on both sides of the racially motivated clashes provoked by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Both former Presidents Bush weighed in from retirement with a rare statement, saying that Americans “must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms.”
In the House, Democratic lawmakers said they will introduce a resolution to censure Mr. Trump.
As criticism escalated over the president’s comments that “both sides” were to blame for the violent clashes last weekend, Mr. Trump’s Cabinet members also faced calls for a mass resignation to repudiate Mr. Trump’s views.
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon condemned white nationalist “clowns” and “losers” in an interview Wednesday but said Democrats are only helping Republicans by fixating on “identity politics.”
“The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em,” the former head of Breitbart told The American Prospect in an interview. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Mr. Bannon dismissed the white nationalists who held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.
“These guys are a collection of clowns,” Mr. Bannon said. “Ethno-nationalism — it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we’ve got to help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”
But Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who managed Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid in 2008 and served as a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, called it “a time for choosing for all Republicans.”
“You cannot serve honorably and morally a president who holds these positions,” he said on MSNBC, adding that Cabinet members such as Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and chief White House economic adviser Gary Cohn have decisions to make.
No one defected Wednesday from the Cabinet or from the president’s inner circle of White House advisers. A source close to the West Wing said Mr. Cohn was “crumbling,” but other reports said he planned to stay in his post.
The heads of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force independently issued strong condemnations of the bigotry and racism that spurred the violent clashes.
“The shameful events in Charlottesville are unacceptable and must not be tolerated. … [T]he Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said in one of those statements, which he posted Wednesday on social media.
One of the few other administration officials to speak out Wednesday was Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin, who said Mr. Trump clearly shares his views that bigotry cannot be tolerated in the U.S.
“This is an affront to American ideals,” Mr. Shulkin told reporters. “This is an affront to civilization. We have fought against these beliefs. We’re not going to allow ourselves as a country to be drawn back there.”
Mr. Shulkin, speaking at the president’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, at the signing of a bill for veterans’ education, said Mr. Trump “has done a good job of speaking for himself.”
“He’s denounced bigotry, hatred, violence, Nazis, white supremacists,” Mr. Shulkin said. “I think he has been very clear that this was not acceptable to him, that he has denounced them.”
He said there is “strong consensus” in the administration.
“We’ve heard from the vice president, we’ve heard from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we’ve heard from Ivanka Trump, we’ve heard from many leaders throughout the country,” he said.
Ms. Chao’s husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, issued a statement denouncing white supremacists while avoiding any direct mention of Mr. Trump.
“We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred,” Mr. McConnell said. “There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Mr. Trump should be trying to unite the country.
“Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them,” Mr. Graham told the president. “Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world.”
Mr. Trump was out of public view Wednesday, a day after his combative press conference in New York that revived criticism of his appearing to equate white nationalists with demonstrators who came out to confront them. The president traveled from Trump Tower in New York to his golf club in Bedminster, where he signed the legislation to boost veterans’ education benefits.
The president also commented on the memorial service in Charlottesville for Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old who was killed when a car thought to be driven by a white nationalist rammed into a crowd of demonstrators Saturday. The president called her “a truly special young woman.”
“She will be long remembered by all!” he tweeted.
White House aides have said Mr. Trump didn’t seriously consider attending the memorial service, the kind of event that his predecessor, Barack Obama, frequently would use in part as a platform for issues such as gun control or racial tolerance.
A group of congressional Democrats said Wednesday that they will ask Congress to take the rare step of officially censuring Mr. Trump.
Led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, the censure resolution says Mr. Trump did a disservice to the country when he blamed “many sides” for the weekend violence.
The lawmakers went beyond Charlottesville, saying the president “has surrounded himself with, and cultivated the influence of, senior advisers and spokespeople who have long histories of promoting white nationalist, alt-right, racist and anti-Semitic principles and policies within the country.”
The resolution urges Mr. Trump to fire anyone who suggests he “cater to the alt-right movement.” It will be introduced when the House convenes on Friday.
The episode has motivated Democrats as much as it has deflated Republicans. Daily Action, a progressive group, claimed credit for generating “thousands of calls and emails to the consumer companies on Trump’s business councils” this week, focusing on Campbell’s Soup Co. and the eight others.
On Wednesday morning alone, the group said, it generated more than 2,500 calls to the eight companies.
Daily Action said earlier this week that it “drove: 5,227 calls to the White House urging Mr. Trump to condemn white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville, and 4,118 constituent calls to the Senate urging lawmakers to take a stand “against white supremacy in the White House” and call for the resignation of White House strategist Steve Bannon.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Daniel Wessel said the president’s councils disbanded “because of Trump’s failure to lead and the public pressure that followed.”
“For American businesses and CEOs, an association with Trump has become toxic for many reasons,” he said. “Trump’s business and manufacturing councils were never effective in the first place and only offered as bluster to distract from his inability to deliver on his campaign promises. Trump’s peddling of racist lies has been the final straw that has made the businessman president lose even the support of big business.”
The group Color Of Change also took credit for its “#QuitTheCouncil” campaign, demanding that business leaders including Elon Musk of Tesla, Bob Iger of Disney, and Indra Nooyi of Pepsi “stop enabling this administration’s support of hatred and bigotry.”
“One by one, America’s business leaders have abandoned Donald Trump,” said Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson. “But that’s not out of any altruism; it’s because they know the American people — especially communities of color — will hold them accountable for enabling a supporter of violent hate and white supremacy. Trump killed these councils as a move of desperation.”