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Trump summons CEOs for advice on taxes, regulations, infrastructure

President Trump speaks during a meeting with manufacturing executives at White House on Feb. 23. From left are Trump, Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier, Ford chief executive Mark Fields, Campbell Soup chief executive Denise Morrison, United Technologies chief executive Greg Hayes and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Trump called two dozen corporate executives to the White House on Thursday to advise the administration on taxes, regulation and infrastructure projects, as well as on ways to strengthen the U.S. workforce.

Trump celebrated the expansion of U.S. manufacturing jobs that some companies have announced in the three months since his election and said he expects the companies represented at the White House listening session to continue expanding their domestic footprints.

“Bringing manufacturing and creating high-wage jobs was one of our campaign themes,” Trump said. “Everything is going to be based on bringing our jobs back.”

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Trump lambasted U.S. trade deficits with China and Mexico as well as the loss of manufacturing jobs since the North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990s — also a major theme of his campaign. After one month in office, Trump said, “I’m delivering on everything we said.”

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The CEOs in attendance were from major American companies such as General Electric, Dell, 3M, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Whirlpool, Lockheed Martin, International Paper, Campbell Soup, General Dynamics, Dow Chemical and United Technologies.

Trump knew many of them personally from his years in business or from earlier White House meetings. As they went around the room introducing themselves, the president ribbed some of them. He joked that Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin would have preferred Hillary Clinton to have won , saying she would not have sought to renegotiate Lockheed’s contract for the F-35 program as aggressively as he has.

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When it came time for Jeff Immelt of GE to introduce himself, Trump boasted that Immelt had once watched him make a hole in one on a golf course. The president urged Immelt to tell the story. Immelt said that when GE owned NBC and was trying to persuade Trump to do “The Apprentice,” the two golfed together and Trump hit the hole in one.

Trump said he told Immelt at the time, “I’m the best golfer of all the rich people.”

The chief executives spent several hours at the White House, meeting first in four small working-group sessions with senior administration officials before convening in the State Dining Room with the president.

The working groups — an idea of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser — allowed the executives to relate firsthand experiences dealing with the federal government.

In a session on regulatory issues, led by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg, the chief executives lamented having to allocate so many resources to internal efforts to comply with ever-changing federal regulations. They advocated streamlining regulations put into place during the Obama administration.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn led a working group on infrastructure in which some chief executives advocated increasing the federal tax on gasoline to fund new investments in roads, railroads, bridges and other projects.

Trump has called for a $1 trillion infrastructure project, but the administration has not spelled out how it intends to pay for it, other than perhaps through public-private partnerships.

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Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, led the working group on “the workforce of the future,” along with Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intragovernmental and technology initiatives, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon.

The chief executives and administration officials discussed the importance of vocational education, noting that there are not enough workers prepared for specific trades and that too many graduates of high school do not have basic math and other skills to succeed in manufacturing jobs.

On taxes and trade, the working group was led by Shahira Knight, assistant to the president for tax and retirement policy, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Vice President Pence and Kushner visited each of the four working groups to personally greet the chief executives and offer support from the administration.

“I know the stature of the people around the table, and I’m grateful you’re bringing your insights,” Pence told the tax and trade group. The vice president said he hoped the chief executives will help the administration “jump-start the economy” and “bring balance back to the economy.”