As 4th CEO quits Trump council, pressure heats up for Campbell Soup executive

A fourth CEO has announced he is walking away from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council over Trump’s initially muted response to racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend that was fueled by groups promoting white supremacy, putting pressure on the remaining executives — including the leader of Camden’s Campbell Soup Co. — to do the same.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said on Twitter he was leaving the panel because “it’s the right thing for me to do.”

Paul announced his decision Tuesday, minutes after Trump lashed out at the other executives who have chosen to withdraw from his council, labeling them “grandstanders.” Those CEOs include Merck’s Kenneth Frazier, a Philadelphia native and chief executive of the Kenilworth, N.J., pharmaceutical company. Frazier was the first executive to step down from the panel.

Paul’s exit leaves fewer than 20 executives on a council that once totaled more than two dozen. Those who remain face increased pressure, from Trump administration critics and from their customers, urging them to take a stand against the president.

Among the leaders facing that pressure is Denise Morrison, chief executive of Campbell Soup. She has decided to remain on Trump’s panel, despite use of the #soupnazis hashtag on social media, which aims to tie the company to the Nazi slogans demonstrators chanted in Charlottesville.

“We believe it continues to be important for Campbell to have a voice and provide input on matters that will affect our industry, our company, and our employees in support of growth. Therefore, Ms. Morrison will remain on the president’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative,” the company said in a statement Monday. When reached on Tuesday, a company spokesman said Campbell’s didn’t have anything to add.

One of the first posts in the #soupnazis campaign came from MoveOn.org’s Ben Wikler, who is urging the Trump administration to fire chief strategist Steve Bannon, the former chairman of the conservative website Breitbart, which has strong ties to the “alt-right” movement.

“Until Bannon’s fired, staying on that council means brand risk of being called #SoupNazis,” Wikler wrote in a tweet that has been shared nearly 5,000 times.

The incentives are strong for executives to hold their tongue. In the case of Campbell, Trump has chosen to promote the brand on multiple occasions. “I like Campbell’s Soup,” Trump said during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. He also praised the company in the Oval Office last month during the administration’s “Made in America Day.”

The Campbell statement was similar to those from other executives remaining on the panel. Their statements condemned the racial violence in Charlottesville without criticizing or calling out the president by name.

“GE has no tolerance for hate, bigotry, or racism, and we strongly condemn the violent extremism in Charlottesville over the weekend,” the company 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.”

Dell Technologies issued a similar statement on behalf of founder and CEO Michael Dell, who will also remain on the council.

“There’s no change in Dell engaging with the Trump administration and governments around the world to share our perspective on policy issues that affect our company, customers, and employees,” the company statement read.

New York Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote that he’d spoken to a number of chief executives who expressed outrage over the president in private but were “too scared” to say anything in public for fear of putting their companies in the crosshairs of a president not afraid to vocalize his opposition to those he considers enemies.

Frazier, however, started the string of CEOs leaving the council on Monday, when he announced his departure in protest of the president’s initial response in which Trump blamed the violence on “many sides.”

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

Frazier’s decision garnered not one, but two rebukes on Twitter from the president, who lashed out at Merck and noted in all caps that the executive can now shift his focus to “LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES.”

“When I asked one chief executive Monday morning why he had remained publicly silent, he told me: ‘Just look at what he did to Ken. I’m not sticking my head up,’ ” Sorkin wrote.

On Monday afternoon, Trump condemned the “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists” by name. But two other executives on his manufacturing panel — Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich — bowed to public pressure and announced their departures Monday evening.

“I have already made clear my abhorrence at the recent hate-spawned violence in Charlottesville, and earlier today I called on all leaders to condemn the white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence,” Krzanich said in a statement late Monday night.

The three departures come after Telsa CEO Elon Musk resigned in June over Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. Four other executives — Ford’s Mark Fields, Arconic’s Klaus Kleinfeld, U.S. Steel’s Mario Longhi, and Caterpillar’s Doug Oberhelman — left the manufacturing panel as a result of their stepping down from jobs at their companies. In all three cases, their spots on the council weren’t filled.

Here are the executives who remain on the presidential manufacturing panel:

Andrew Liveris, Dow Chemical Co.
Bill Brown, Harris Corp.
Michael Dell, Dell Technologies
John Ferriola, Nucor Corp.
Jeff Fettig, Whirlpool Corp.
Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson
Greg Hayes, United Technologies Corp.
Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin
Jeff Immelt, General Electric
Jim Kamsickas, Dana Inc.
Rich Kyle, The Timken Co.
Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO
Thea Lee, formerly AFL-CIO
Denise Morrison, Campbell Soup Co.
Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing
Michael Polk, Newell Brands
Mark Sutton, International Paper
Inge Thulin, 3M
Wendell Weeks, Corning