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U.S. CEOs to meet with Trump amid tension over his policies
February 3, 2017 / 11:00 AM / 6 months ago

U.S. CEOs to meet with Trump amid tension over his policies

WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump will huddle with chief executives of major U.S. companies on Friday as the business community finds itself increasingly split over how to respond to his policies.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on Thursday quit the business leaders' group, a panel selected by Trump in December, under pressure from activists over Trump's week-old executive order halting travel to the United States for people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Executives from Ford Motor Co and Tesla Inc also criticized Trump's travel ban, but other advisory group members, including General Motors Co and JPMorgan Chase & Co have not taken a position.

Trump previously met with executives from the U.S. pharmaceutical and auto industries as part of a push to step up U.S. job creation.

U.S. companies of all political stripes want Trump, a Republican, to fulfill a campaign pledge to slash corporate taxes, but a schism has developed over how to do it.

The splits highlight business leaders' struggles to navigate a divisive political environment and a new president who does not hesitate to use his platform against companies that vex him.

The businessman-turned-politician has threatened companies that manufacture in Mexico with a 20 percent tax on imports and needled pharmaceutical executives to make more drugs in the United States. On Thursday, he publicly cheered South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co for saying it might build a U.S. plant for its home appliances business.

Some investors want companies to speak up.

"I certainly don't think investors want people who run corporate America to be afraid of making smart business decisions," Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, said in an interview on Thursday.

The sharpest outcry about Trump's travel restrictions, which caused chaos and protests at U.S. airports last weekend, came from tech companies, which have broad concerns about his immigration plans.

Uber criticized the ban but took heat from activists when its chief competitor, Lyft, appeared more vocal on the issue.

"Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president," Kalanick said in a memo explaining why he left Trump's advisory panel.

Tesla's Elon Musk said in a tweet on Thursday: "In tomorrow's meeting, I and others will express our objections to the recent executive order on immigration and offer suggestions for changes to the policy."

The White House said in a statement on Thursday evening that did not mention Uber that Trump "understands the importance of an open dialogue with fellow business leaders to discuss how to best make our nation's economy stronger."

Split on Tax Reform

A more complicated division is developing over taxes. Boeing Co and General Electric Co on Thursday joined a group in support of a congressional plan to tax all imports. But that plan, which does not have universal support among Republicans, is opposed by many U.S. retailers, which say it could raise prices for consumers.

Republican leaders say tax reform is a top priority, but they have acknowledged it could take until the end of 2017 or longer to finish legislation.

"If I were a company, I'd be worried about tax reform," said Bernie Williams, chief investment officer at USAA Investment Solutions, in San Antonio.

The White House meeting with the group, which also includes leaders of the Cleveland Clinic, PepsiCo Inc and IBM Corp, is set to cover tax and trade, regulatory relief and infrastructure. (Additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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