GM’s Barra meets with Trump amid travel ban angst

Keith Laing, and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Washington — General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra met with President Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy economic forum on Friday in the panel’s first gathering since Trump’s controversial executive order banning travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.

Barra is one of several auto-related business leaders appointed by Trump to the panel, which is intended to advise him on economic issues and jobs growth.

She sat next to the president in the meeting. Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman was seated on the other side of Trump.

Trump mentioned that he met with Barra last week. “We had a fantastic meeting on the auto industry,” Trump said.

Trump referenced meeting last week that included Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford and President and CEO Mark Fields, as well as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne: “I learned a lot about the automobile business. I thought I knew a lot, but they are being so stagnant, so restricted with regulations, a lot of other reasons,” Trump said Friday.

“A lot of jobs are going to be coming back into Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania and all of the places that really have been hurt so badly,” Trump said.

Schwarzman said the group planned to cover issues of immigration, regulatory relief, tax and trade, women in the workplace, infrastructure and education.

Trump has said the group is compromised of “some of America’s most highly respected and successful business leaders” and “designed to provide direct input to the president from many of the best and brightest in the business world in a frank, non-bureaucratic and non-partisan manner.”

“When I campaigned for office, I promised the American people that I’d ask for our country’s best and brightest, and we have that,” Trump said at the start of Friday’s meeting.

Barra, in a statement, said she was “pleased to have been part of a very constructive discussion on how we can all work together on policies that support a strong and competitive U.S. economy, create jobs and address safety and environmental issues.

“As we have stated, a vibrant U.S. economy that is competitive globally and that grows jobs is what we all want.”

The meeting Friday was conducted against a backdrop of controversy over the travel ban, which banned those from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days.

Some members of the panel have faced pressure to distance themselves from Trump since he signed the travel ban. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from the panel Thursday after a viral social media campaign urged users to delete his company’s ride-hailing cellphone application.

“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” Kalanick said in a statement after calling Trump to inform him of the withdrawal.

Tesla Inc. and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has resisted pressure to distance his companies from Trump’s economic panel.

“In December, I agreed to join the Presidential Advisory Forum to provide feedback on issues that I think are important for our country and the world. In tomorrow’s meeting, I and others will express our objections to the recent executive order on immigration and offer suggestions for changes to the policy,” Musk said in a statement released on Twitter on Thursday evening.

“Advisory councils simply provide advice and attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the Administration,” Musk continued. “My goals are to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy and to help make humanity a multi-planet civilization, a consequence of which will be the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a more inspiring future for all.”

GM and Fiat Chrysler have declined to comment on the travel ban, but Bill Ford and Fields have said the restriction “goes against our values as a company.”

“Respect for all people is a core value of Ford Motor Company, and we are proud of the rich diversity of our company here at home and around the world,” Ford and Field said in a joint statement released on Monday. “That is why we do not support this policy or any other that goes against our values as a company. We are not aware, to date, of any Ford employees directly affected by this policy. We will continue working to ensure the well-being of our employees by promoting the values of respect and inclusion in the workplace.”

Trump focused mostly on economic issues, touting a new jobs report that showed the U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in January.

“A couple of things happened this morning,” Trump said, referencing the jobs report. “So we are very happy about that. I think that it’s really big league. We’re bringing back jobs. We’re bringing down your taxes. We are going to (get rid of) your regulations.”

Former General Electric leader Jack Welch told CNBC following Friday’s meeting that there were several debates among the leaders in the meeting including on immigration and women’s issues. Welch said the group also talked about regulation and how to grow jobs and the different stances on the idea of a border tax with Mexico.

Welch called it a “fabulous” meeting and said those who attended received assignments. He said Trump acted like a peer.

“The president is engaged. He wants to make America great again. He really means it.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing