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Under Armour, Intel CEOs follow Merck's lead to resign from White House council

The heads of three major U.S. corporations resigned from the White House manufacturing council on Aug. 14 amid disquiet over President Donald Trump's failure to quickly condemn racism after far-right activists rallied in Charlottesville, Va., setting off violent clashes.

Merck & Co. Inc. Chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier said he had a "responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism." Under Armour Inc. CEO Kevin Plank said he too decided to step down from the council, citing a desire to focus on "unity, diversity and inclusion." Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich said in a late-night blog post that he was resigning to call attention to the "serious harm" the political climate was causing to attempts to address the problems of American manufacturing.

Trump has taken sharp criticism for initially failing to specifically condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis who descended on Charlottesville on Aug. 12, setting off violent clashes with counter-protesters. Speaking after one far-right sympathizer drove a car into a crowd, killing a woman, Trump said "[w]e condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country." He later made a statement the afternoon of Aug. 14 in which he called out "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups" as "repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."

Two police officers were also killed near the protests when their helicopter crashed.

Early on Aug. 14, Merck's Frazier said the White House should have "clearly" rejected hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, leading him to leave the council because of a "responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism."

Other members of the advisory group, which originally included 28 executives from manufacturing companies and industry groups, released statements condemning acts of racism, violence and hate speech.

PepsiCo Inc. CEO Indra Nooyi tweeted she was "heartbroken" over the events in Charlottesville while Dow Chemical Co. Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said the company has "no room" for bigotry. Neither clarified the current status of their participation on the committee.

Campbell Soup Co said CEO Denise Morrison will remain a member of the advisory council, adding that the company sees the need to advocate on matters of diversity and inclusion.

"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," a Campbell's spokesman said by email.

Members of Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, tasked with providing the administration with ideas on economic reform, similarly condemned the events in Charlottesville.

The head of the forum, Blackstone Group LP Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder Stephen Schwarzman, said he would "work further" to encourage tolerance and understanding.

"As the president said today, I believe we need to find a path forward to heal the wounds left by this tragedy and address its underlying causes," Schwarzman said in a statement.

In a statement, EY Advisory Services Inc. Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger said business leaders and government should "unite to ensure we become stronger through our differences."

A spokeswoman for the Cleveland Clinic said President and CEO Toby Cosgrove's status on the forum had not changed.

"We believe that diversity, inclusion, and cultural differences are a vital part of the success of this country," the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. She added that Cosgrove, who will transition out of the top executive role later in 2017, had not talked with Trump since April, when the panel last met.

Trump initially attacked Frazier for leaving the council, tweeting early on Aug. 14 that "he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!" Later in the evening, Trump continued to criticize Merck.

"Merck Pharma is a leader in higher & higher drug prices while at the same time taking jobs out of the U.S. Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!" Trump tweeted.

Frazier is not the first executive to depart Trump's councils due to the administration's actions. After Trump issued an executive order enforcing a temporary travel ban against nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from the Strategic and Policy Forum and a number of CEOs denounced the move. When Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Walt Disney Co.'s Robert Iger and Tesla Inc.'s Elon Musk left the same forum.