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As CEOs Shun Trump Photo-Ops, GOP Leaders Court Business

Image: As CEOs Shun Trump Photo-Ops, GOP Leaders Court Business
Getty/Mandel Ngan

Thursday, 24 Aug 2017 09:09 AM

Republicans aren’t about to let go of their self-proclaimed title as the party of big business.

When dozens of America’s most visible chief executive officers said last week that they’d break up two groups advising President Donald Trump after his slow condemnation of violence at a white-supremacist rally, they opened the widest rift between a Republican president and corporations in generations. 

But even as Trump suggested Tuesday that executives are now speaking to him privately “instead of through a council,” CEOs aren’t being shy about embracing other Republicans. Top lawmakers are making the rounds to companies to rally support for a tax overhaul that could sharply reduce corporate rates -- and burnish the GOP’s pro-business bona fides.

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday visited Intel Corp., whose chief was one of the first to depart a White House manufacturing council amid last week’s turmoil. On Thursday, Ryan plans to speak to workers at aerospace giant Boeing Co., a previous target of Trump’s ire whose CEO also had a seat on the manufacturing panel.

Turbulent Ties

Boeing in particular faces a delicate dance with Trump and congressional Republicans. The largest U.S. exporter and second-biggest U.S. defense contractor would likely gain from a tax overhaul and other elements of Republicans’ agenda. 

At the same time, Boeing is waiting to close nearly $20 billion in commercial jet orders to Iran, which Trump has accused of not holding up its end of a nuclear accord struck under the Obama administration. The company also wants to reopen the U.S. Export-Import Bank to help finance jet purchases for customers unable to tap conventional credit markets. Ryan, before he became speaker, had derided the Ex-Im bank as corporate welfare.

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO, didn’t join his fellow CEOs in taking a public stand against the president last week. Instead, Boeing issued a statement of support for the “purpose and mission” of the manufacturing council as well as “equality and respect for all people.”

Boeing has emerged as a symbol of American manufacturing might this year -- even while cutting nearly 7,000 jobs. Its stock has led the Dow Jones Industrial Average, posting a 53 percent gain this year through Wednesday’s close that trounces the likes of Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Trump showed up at a Boeing plant in South Carolina to hail the public debut of the newest 787 Dreamliner, a marquee jet, in February.

Ryan will field questions from Boeing employees during a town hall staged in front of the original 787 line in Everett, Washington. The event was scheduled at his request before the Charlottesville controversy. “He wanted to visit and we’re accommodating him,” said Paul Bergman, a Boeing spokesman.

Other top Republicans have also called on business leaders in recent days. On Tuesday, Kevin Brady, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee that oversees tax policy, visited United Parcel Service Inc. CEO David Abney. On Wednesday, Brady appeared at an AT&T employee town hall where CEO Randall Stephenson backed tax reform.

Tax Push

“Major companies might dislike what the president says on occasion, but find much to like in his pro-business agenda,” said John Feehery, a longtime Republican lobbyist and partner at EFB Advocacy, whose clients include Sprint Corp. and the National Immigration Law Center. “So of course they still have to find ways to work with his administration.”

At Intel, Ryan spoke in private with a handful of executives including Chairman Andy Bryant about tax reform, and gave public remarks to about 50 employees stressing the need to cut the corporate tax rate and eliminate loopholes. 

The Wisconsin Republican also piloted one of the company’s commercial drones and saw a Ford Fusion outfitted with Intel hardware that allows the vehicle to drive autonomously.  Climbing into the driver’s seat for a photo op, Ryan instinctively grabbed the steering wheel and had to be reminded that, if the car were moving, he wouldn’t need to do so.

“Hands-free, that’s what you want, right?” Ryan said as posed for the cameras, along with Oregon’s only Republican congressman, Greg Walden, who accompanied the speaker on the visit.

Keeping Quiet

Public meetings with high-profile executives have been a frequent feature of the Trump administration. But any future glad-handing is likely to be put on hold and left to private meetings and lobbying, according to people familiar with the matter.

While the president’s eroding popularity and shaky relationship with lawmakers has dimmed prospects for new legislation, companies could benefit from executive orders and regulatory rule changes, including on fuel standards, net neutrality and banking.

Going forward, communications between the administration and corporate leaders will be focused on specific issues where they sense the relationship could be mutually beneficial, an administration official said. They are likely to continue talks with tech leaders on projects like an effort to roll out new digital services to help veterans, and may try again to host public events with groups of influential business leaders, the official said.

“At the end of the day, people in my position are still going to do our job,” said Paul Miller, a lobbyist and president of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics.

‘They Are Calling’

In recent weeks, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump have reached out to corporate leaders to help with some projects, according to the administration official, including bids to help modernize the federal government’s information-technology resources and boost female entrepreneurship. 

Such conversations are expected to continue. And White House officials are still planning to pick up the phone and call executives if they have policy questions or to provide a heads-up about relevant policy initiatives.

According to the president, his calendar is filling up.

“They are calling,” Trump said of CEOs during his rally on Tuesday. And he said they’re saying, “Don, can we get together for lunch?”

© Copyright 2018 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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Republicans aren't about to let go of their self-proclaimed title as the party of big business.When dozens of America's most visible chief executive officers said last week that they'd break up two groups advising President Donald Trump after his slow condemnation of...
trump, gop, leaders, business, ceo
Thursday, 24 Aug 2017 09:09 AM
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