Corporate heads call out Trump; Aetna CEO says ‘I am ashamed of our President’s behavior’

Aetna chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The CEOs of two of the state’s largest companies, both with national and international reach, took President Donald Trump to task for his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville last weekend.

Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, said in a statement to employees:

I can’t help but comment on the current national dialogue surrounding the deplorable violence in Charlottesville. I strongly agree with the remarks of former Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush who stated: “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred of all forms.” I am pleased that many other political leaders from both parties have expressed similarly strong statements – and I am ashamed of our President’s behavior and comments.

We all breathe the same air, we all want the same thing for our children’s future, and we all aspire for the pursuit of happiness and good health for our families and friends. We are not a country of hate, and we are all judged by our own god based on the compassion and humanity we show others.

The CEO of Connecticut based United Technologies resigned from President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council around the time Trump said on Wednesday that he was disbanding both of them.

“It is clear we need to collectively stand together and denounce the politics of hate, intolerance and racism,” Greg Hayes, CEO of UTC said in a statement.

He tweeted: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”

Trump had hoped the two councils would help him achieve a major goal of his administration — creating jobs, especially in manufacturing. The idea was to hear advice from top CEOs.

But those executives began walking away after Trump insisted that violence at a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville was perpetrated by many sides.

Eight members of the manufacturing council quit this week. They included CEOs of several major corporations and the AFL-CIO, among others. The White House established the council in January.

The second group, the Strategic and Policy Forum, was led by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman. It included some of the biggest players in finance and business: JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. It had met several times since it was established shortly after the election.

In a statement Wednesday, members of the Strategic and Policy Forum said that “intolerance, racism and violence have absolutely no place in this country and are an affront to core American values.”

“We believe the debate over Forum participation has become a distraction from our well-intentioned and sincere desire to aid vital policy discussions on how to improve the lives of everyday Americans. As such, the President and we are disbanding the Forum,” the group said.

Some top executives sought to make clear that they resigned from the advisory councils before Trump stepped in to dissolve them.

“Alex Gorsky had made his decision to resign from the council earlier today before the president’s tweet. As we said in our previous statement, the president’s remarks yesterday equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred were unacceptable,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Dimon also put out a statement to show that he “personally supported” breaking up the Strategic and Policy Forum.

“I strongly disagree with President Trump’s reaction to the events that took place in Charlottesville over the past several days,” Dimon said.

And General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt said he notified members of the manufacturing council this morning that he “could no longer serve.”

The flurry of resignations began Monday after Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier abruptly quit the council and said that “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.”

Trump fired back an hour after Frazier’s announcement. He tweeted that the Merck CEO “will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

“The council itself is totally ineffective. It’s never met,” Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO head who quit the manufacturing council on Tuesday, told “CBS This Morning.” “It’s a subterfuge to be able to deregulate industry.”

He continued: “But it’s the symbolism of being associated with it that we rejected yesterday.”

The reasoning echoed other executives who resigned from Trump’s councils earlier this year.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who advocates clean energy, resigned from the manufacturing initiative and a separate economic advisory group in June after Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.