Sunday 22 July 2018

Donald Trump slams drug firm CEO following resignation from advisory council

Merck chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier has resigned from the American Manufacturing Council citing
Merck chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier has resigned from the American Manufacturing Council citing "a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism" (AP)

Donald Trump has lashed out at the CEO of the USA's third-largest pharmaceutical company who resigned from a federal advisory council because of the US president's failure to immediately and explicitly rebuke white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia.

By early afternoon on Monday, Mr Trump did issue a direct condemnation of hate groups, but it did not appear to tamp down criticism that it was not done over the weekend when fringe groups clashed with protesters.

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier wrote on Twitter on Monday: "America's leaders must honour our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which runs counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal."

Mr Frazier is one of the few African Americans to head a Fortune 500 company.

Mr Trump mocked the executive almost immediately following the resignation, saying on Twitter that Mr Frazier will now "have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

Drug makers have come under withering criticism for soaring prices in the US, including by Mr Trump, though he has yet to act on a promise to contain them.

With the barb, Mr Trump appeared to attack an industry executive who has tried to make drug pricing somewhat more transparent by revealing his company's overall drug price changes.

In January, Merck reported that its average net prices - the amount the company receives after discounts and other rebates - increased in the years since 2010 in a range between 3.4% and 6.2%. That is about half as large as the increase in its retail prices.

The exchange lit up social media on Monday, with many people lauding Mr Frazier and blasting the president.

Other corporate executives aired support for Mr Frazier as well.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman wrote on Twitter: "Thanks @Merck Ken Frazier for strong leadership to stand up for the moral values that made this country what it is."

Mr Frazier, who grew up in a poor neighbuorhood in Philadelphia, resigned days after one person was killed and others wounded in violent clashes between white supremacists and protesters.

Mr Frazier and his siblings were raised by their caretaker father after their mother died when he was very young. He has earned a reputation as a risk taker in the drug industry, pouring money into daunting research areas, particularly trying to develop a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

Mr Frazier is not the first executive to resign from advisory councils serving Mr Trump.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk resigned from the manufacturing council in June, and two other advisory groups to the president, after the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Bob Iger resigned for the same reason from the president's Strategic and Policy Forum, which Mr Trump established to advise him on how government policy impacts economic growth and job creation.

The manufacturing jobs council had 28 members initially, but it has shrunk since it was formed earlier this year as executives retire, are replaced, or, as with Mr Frazier and Mr Musk, resign.

William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said he could not "think of a parallel example" of any president responding as viciously as Mr Trump to a CEO departing an advisory council.

"Usually, certain niceties are observed to smooth over a rupture," said Mr Galston, who served as a domestic policy aide in the Clinton administration.

"We've learned that as president, Mr Trump is behaving exactly as he did as a candidate," Mr Galston said. "He knows only one mode: When attacked, hit back harder."

AP

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