One day after committing to remain on President Donald Trump's manufacturing council, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky on Wednesday decided to bow out in the wake of new remarks from the president. The decision came about the same time Trump ended the panel, as the president announced via Twitter.
Both decisions follow Merck CEO Ken Frazier’s move to pull out of the group in protest after the president's initial weak-worded response to deadly violence this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Clashes between white power groups and counterprotesters over the removal of a Confederate statue escalated on Saturday when a car driven by an alleged white nationalist ran into a crowd of those counterprotesters, claiming the life of one and injuring 19 others. The driver was charged with second-degree murder in connection with that attack.
Trump has changed his statements on the violence several times in the face of criticism. Initially, he condemned the violence on “many sides,” but as pushback mounted, he called out neo-Nazis and white supremacists by name. Late yesterday, at a heated press conference, he returned to his stance that both sides were at fault.
Frazier quit the panel Monday morning, saying America’s leaders need to clearly reject “expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.” Several other business leaders followed him on the way out; Trump responded with a pair of tweets criticizing Frazier and Merck.
.@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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
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
Gorsky initially committed to staying on the panel to "remain engaged" with ongoing policy talks. But that stance changed after the president's Tuesday press conference, which set off another backlash against Trump. As he had Saturday, the president again blamed "both sides" for the violence.
That was too much for Gorsky. "The President’s most recent statements equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred is unacceptable and has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council," Gorsky said in a Wednesday statement.
Just before Gorsky issued his Wednesday statement, President Trump tweeted that he's putting an end to the council.
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
The episodes of the last several days highlight a risk drug companies and other businesses encounter dealing with a conflict-prone administration in pursuit of regulatory cuts, tax reform or other measures that would provide them with a boost. Through multiple controversies during President Trump's short time in office, business leaders have faced pressure to rebuke a president who could help them.
However, Big Pharma was largely quiet during other controversial moves from the Trump administration such as the travel ban and the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that President Trump ended the manufacturing council and that J&J CEO Alex Gorsky decided to leave.