Until this week, the task force to “get Americans back to work again” received little attention. It was born one week after the inauguration and, according to a White House announcement, was supposed to play a regular role in Trump’s presidency.
“The President will be meeting with some of the world’s most successful and creative business leaders to share their experiences and gain their insights,” a Jan. 27 statement said. “President Trump plans to continually seek information and perspectives from a diverse range of business leaders.”
The Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, which came to be known as the manufacturing council, never lived up to that initial hype. It died seven months later with a tweet.
In between, it had exactly one meeting.
On Feb. 23, the business leaders visited Trump in the White House’s State Dining Room for a conversation on trade and the regulatory climate. They took turns introducing themselves to the president. “Many of you I know from reading all of our wonderful magazines and business magazines, in particular,” Trump told the room of 24 chief executives. “So it’s an honor to have you with us today.”
During the event, Trump described the scope of their influence.
“Today we have 24 CEOs from the largest manufacturing companies in the country and even in the world,” he said, in a speech the White House published online. “They represent, the people just in this room, nearly $1 trillion of sales and 2 million employees, large majorities of which are in the United States. They share our commitment to bringing manufacturing back and to create jobs in this country, which has been the biggest part of my campaign.”
Then the council went silent. It held no public events, and when asked about any other activities, the White House did not respond.
It was hardly heard of again until it fell apart: Kenneth C. Frazier, who leads Merck, quit the council Monday because Trump took two days to explicitly denounce the white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan marchers who staged a violent march in Charlottesville this weekend. Eight more resignations piled up after Trump gave a news conference Tuesday at Trump Tower and said that blame fell on “both sides” for the clash, which pitted people chanting Nazi slogans and those who came to protest them.
Trump shifted quickly, first lashing out at Frazier then later suggesting the subsequent departing executives were “grandstanders” who could be easily replaced, before finally ending the effort with a conciliatory post on Twitter: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”
Trump is out a council he promised would help him realize his pledge to revitalize American manufacturing. The sector has made steady gains during the slow recovery, but it’s still five million jobs smaller than it was two decades ago.
Some of the former council members expressed skepticism that the council was making any real progress. Before quitting Tuesday, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, said in a Monday statement the council had “yet to hold any real meeting.”
Now it appears it never will.