POLITICS
08/15/2017 03:45 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2017

Walmart CEO Slams Trump Over Charlottesville Response, But Remains In Advisory Role

The nation's largest private employer lamented Trump's "missed opportunity" to unite country against white supremacy.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the deadly violence sparked by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, becoming arguably Trump’s loudest corporate detractor even as he remains on a White House economics advisory panel.

In an employee memo posted to the retail giant’s website, McMillon admonished the president for not specifically condemning the swastika-wielding, Nazi-saluting protesters until two days after one of those attending the “Unite the Right” rally allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters Saturday and killed a 32-year-old woman.

“As we watched the events and the response from President Trump over the weekend, we too felt that he missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists,” McMillon wrote.

Yet McMillon plans to remain on the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a council of 16 prominent executives formed to advise Trump on economic policy, according to The New York Times, which first reported the memo. No other member of the panel ― headed by Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of The Blackstone Group private equity firm ― has stepped down, and few have spoken out.

That stands in contrast to the seven executives who have quit Trump’s American Manufacturing Council since Monday morning in protest of his response to the violence in Charlottesville. Trump refused to name white supremacists in his first comments on Saturday, instead blaming violence on “many sides.” On Monday, he condemned racism as “evil” and rebuked the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, but critics said it was “too little, too late,” and one white nationalist leader dismissed the speech as “kumbaya nonsense.”

McMillon, in his memo, said Trump’s Monday remarks “were a step in the right direction and we need that clarity and consistency in the future.”

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon at Trump Tower in New York, the president rejected McMillon’s criticism, insisting his Saturday statement was “not at all” a missed opportunity. 

“The head of Walmart, who I know, is a very nice guy ... is making a political statement,” Trump said. 

The resignations from the manufacturing council began on Monday morning when Merck & Co. CEO Ken Frazier, the only African-American in the group, stepped down “to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.” The move prompted a fierce, swift response from Trump:

But even after Trump’s Monday comments, more followed. On Monday evening, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, whose apparel brand sponsors include basketball star Stephen Curry and ballerina Misty Copeland, both of whom are African-American, quit “to focus my efforts on inspiring every person that they can do anything through the power of sport which promotes unity, diversity and inclusion,” he said in a statement. 

Later that night, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich stepped down “to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues,” he said in a statement. “I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them,” Krzanich added. “We should honor ― not attack ― those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values.”

On Tuesday morning, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, left the group, tweeting that “It’s the right thing for me to do.” 

Later that evening, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also announced his resignation amid mounting pressure from unions in the federation.

On Wednesday, Inge Thulin, chief executive of the industrial conglomerate 3M, dropped out after “careful consideration.” Campbell Soup Company CEO Denise Morrison resigned soon after. 

“Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville. I believe the President should have been ― and still needs to be ― unambiguous on that point,” Morrison said in a statement. “Following yesterday’s remarks from the President, I cannot remain on the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.”

Trump vowed to replace the executives who left: 

This article has been updated with the latest executives to resign from the manufacturing council. 

CONVERSATIONS