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Merck CEO Quits Advisory Council Over Trump's Charlottesville Remarks

The CEO of Merck quit President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council after Trump didn't condemn white nationalists for violence in Charlottesville.
Image: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as Ken Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck & Co., listens during a meeting with representatives from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America at the White House, Jan. 31, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as Ken Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck & Co., listens during a meeting with representatives from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America at the White House, Jan. 31, 2017.Ron Sacks / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The African-American chief executive of pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. resigned from President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council Monday after the commander-in-chief failed to condemn white nationalists for deadly violence at a weekend rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“Our country’s strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, faces, sexual orientations and political beliefs. America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier said in a statement announcing his departure from the council.

“As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” Frazier added.

Less than an hour after Merck released Frazier's statement, Trump slammed the exec in a tweet.

“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” Trump posted.

And on Monday night, the founder and CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank, also quit the council.

“I am appreciative of the opportunity to have served, but have decided to step down,” he wrote in a message posted on Twitter. “I love our country and our company will continue to focus my efforts on inspiring every person that they can do anything through the power of sport which promotes unity, diversity and inclusion.”

Later, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced he was also leaving the council.

"I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing," Krzanich wrote on an Intel blog. "Politics and political agendas have sidelined the important mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base."

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, announced his departure from the White House manufacturing council on Tuesday.

The resignations came after Trump sparked a national backlash Saturday by suggesting that “many sides” were to blame for violence during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

One person was killed and more than 19 others were injured during protests at the rally after a car plowed through a group of counter-protesters who were demonstrating against racism.

Trump, in Saturday remarks from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides."

He added that hate and division in the country must stop, but that it is not linked to his presidency because it has "been going on for a long, long time."

"No matter our color, creed, religion, our political party, we are all Americans first," he said, adding that he'd like for his administration to "study" why such violence is occurring. He didn't take questions from reporters.

Asked for clarification, a White House official later said: "The President was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today." Vice President Mike Pence told NBC News that the president "stated clearly that he condemns hate and violence in all of its forms."

After Trump's statement Saturday, many Republicans and Democrats criticized Trump for failing to single out white nationalists for the violence, and on Monday, the president addressed the situation with stronger language.

“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said in a brief statement from the White House.

Shares of Merck were unfazed by Frazier's announcement to leave the manufacturing council and actually rose 0.7 percent to $62.80 Monday — their best day since July 27.

Frazier, however, was not the first to quit the panel. In June, Tesla CEO Elon Musk quit Trump's manufacturing council and Trump's business advisory council after the president withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger also resigned in June from Trump's business advisory council after the president announced his Paris accord decision.

Meanwhile, pressure from social media users mounted on the remaining members of Trump's manufacturing council — a body that includes CEOs from more than two dozen corporate giants like Ford Motor Co., Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Under Armour — to respond to Trump's comments about Charlottesville.

But at least one other member of Trump's manufacturing council said he would remain on the panel.

"GE has no tolerance for hate, bigotry or racism, and we strongly condemn the violent extremism in Charlottesville over the weekend. GE is a proudly inclusive company with employees who represent all religions, nationalities, sexual orientations and races," GE, whose Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt is on Trump's manufacturing council, said in a statement. "With more than 100,000 employees in the United States, it is important for GE to participate in the discussion on how to drive growth and productivity in the U.S., therefore, Jeff Immelt will remain on the Presidential Committee on American Manufacturing."

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris said in his own statement that, "I condemn the violence this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, and my thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones and with the people of Virginia."

"In Dow there is no room for hatred, racism, or bigotry. Dow will continue to work to strengthen the social and economic fabric of the communities where it operates — including supporting policies that help create employment opportunities in manufacturing and rebuild the American workforce," Liveris added.

CORRECTION (Aug. 15, 10:45 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of Intel’s CEO, who also resigned from Trump's advisory council. He is Brian Krzanich, not Brain.