The swift end of President Trump’s corporate advisory groups on Wednesday was remarkable for the way some executives publicly criticized the president.
But the four government contractors on the president’s advisory councils — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Harris Corp. and United Technologies — waited until after the councils had disbanded to publicly weigh in, if they did at all. Even then, several stopped short of singling out the president for blaming “both sides” for the violence at a white supremacist rally this past weekend in Charlottesville.
Lockheed Martin, for one, offered no public statement. But chief executive Marillyn A. Hewson sent a note to employees on Wednesday, hours before the councils were folded, explaining that she would remain a member because the group’s mission “remains critical to our business,” even as she insisted that “white supremists, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups have no place in our society.”
Harris Corp. also declined to comment. Boeing issued a statement calling for “equality and respect for all people” without citing Trump or the events in Virginia.
Only United Technologies Corp. referenced the events directly. In a statement posted on Twitter minutes after the president tweeted that he was ending the advisory panels, United Technologies chief executive Gregory Hayes said he would resign from the manufacturing council though he supports its goals.
“As the events of the last week have unfolded here in the U.S., it is clear that we need to collectively stand together and denounce the politics of hate, intolerance and racism,” Hayes said in the statement. “The values that are the cornerstone of our culture: tolerance, diversity, empathy and trust must be reaffirmed by our actions every day.”
In many ways, contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin are more dependent on government decision-making than other companies that took part in the councils. Trump’s promises to boost defense spending and strip away regulations have helped make the companies some of the biggest beneficiaries of the stock market’s rally in the first eight months of his presidency.
But it has been a precarious relationship. As president-elect, for instance, Trump took Boeing to task for cost overruns when he tweeted that the Air Force One program’s $4 billion expenditures were “out of control” and suggested the contract be canceled. (The deal hasn’t been canceled, but the Air Force later finalized a contract to purchase two excess Boeing 747’s once destined for Russia to serve as the future Air Force One presidential airplane.)
Trump was more complementary on Feb. 17, when he made appearance at a Boeing factory in South Carolina and concluded his remarks by saying, “May God bless you, may God bless the United States of America, and may God bless Boeing.”
On Wednesday, Boeing waited to issue a statement until the end of the day, hours after the business councils had been dissolved.
“Boeing fully supported the purpose and mission of the manufacturing council, and we will continue to advocate for government policies and actions that support U.S. manufacturing jobs, improve America’s global competitiveness, and spur economic growth and prosperity for the country,” a Boeing spokesman said in a statement. “We also remain firmly committed to the core values upon which our company and country were built, including equality and respect for all people.”
Media representatives from Lockheed Martin declined to comment Wednesday. Hewson, the firm’s CEO, was a vocal member of the manufacturing council early in Trump’s presidency and has praised the president in earnings calls and media briefings. She met with the president at least three times as her company, the world’s biggest defense contractor, worked to conclude a deal for the 10th lot of 90 F-35 fighter planes for about $95 million each.
Those negotiations were thrust into the public eye when Trump intervened in Boeing’s favor against Lockheed, saying in a tweet that Lockheed’s F-35 Joint strike fighter should be replaced with Boeing’s cheaper F-18 Super Hornet. The Pentagon later opened a review to compare the two planes’ capabilities.
Those negotiations were marked by unusually close interactions between Trump and the business executives involved. Bloomberg later reported that Trump allowed Boeing chief executive Dennis A. Muilenburg to listen in on a call with a key government manager for the F-35 program as Trump sought information on the two planes.
The negotiations concluded with a Lockheed contract deal that cut $728 million from the cost of the plane, cost savings that were generally in line with what the Pentagon had planned for before Trump took office.
Still, representatives from Lockheed Martin and the Defense Department both said at the time that the president’s personal involvement helped spur the two parties closer to a deal.
“President Trump’s personal involvement in the F-35 program accelerated the negotiations and sharpened our focus on driving down the price,” a Lockheed Martin spokesman said at the time.
Now, Lockheed is involved in negotiations to determine the exact unit price of 74 more F-35 fighter planes that are to be sold to the U.S. military. A spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office at the Defense Department said those negotiations are slated to conclude later this year.