As Trump lashes out at Frazier again, J&J’s Alex Gorsky says he’s not abandoning president’s council

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J&J CEO Alex Gorsky isn’t joining any exodus off of the president’s manufacturing council. And he offered his reasons why just before Trump unleashed a new attack on Merck CEO Ken Frazier and the others who have followed him out of the White House group while freshly stirring a pot of controversy.

For more than a day, J&J kept quiet in the face of queries from me and many others covering biopharma whether its CEO Alex Gorsky would follow the lead of Merck CEO Ken Frazier and resign from the council in protest to the way President Donald Trump handled a deadly encounter in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend between right-wing extremists and the protesters who greeted them.

Initially, Trump only condemned “many sides” in the violent showdown, which erupted into a viral dispute over the president’s unwillingness to shout out against neo-Nazis, the KKK and others. That rankled Frazier, one of the few black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, who departed from the council in high-profile fashion Monday morning, triggering an angry series of tweets from Trump which once again pointedly raised earlier criticism of high drug prices.

Tuesday afternoon, though, J&J put out a statement from Gorsky, who said he’ll stick with the council as a way to express “the values of Our Credo as crucial public policy is discussed and developed.”

“Ours is an important voice on healthcare,” the statement continues. “One that global leaders at every level, in and out of government, need to hear. If we aren’t in the room advocating for global health as a top priority, if we aren’t there standing up for our belief in diversity and inclusion, or if we fail to speak out if the situation demands it, then we have abdicated our Credo responsibility. We must engage if we hope to change the world and those who lead it.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, four other execs had joined Frazier in jumping ship, keeping the pot boiling on speculation of who else will follow. AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka was the latest to bow out.

Gorsky, though, made a rare public pledge to stay with the council, which may well draw an angry reaction from the president’s growing legions of critics.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Trump once again blasted Frazier and the others who joined with him, this time criticizing Merck for its manufacturing work outside the US. Frazier and the others, said the president, are leaving after he’s lectured them on bringing jobs back to this country.

“We want products made in the country,” said Trump. “Now I have to tell you some of the folks that will leave (the council), they’re leaving out of embarrassment because they make their products outside” of the US. “You have to bring this work back to this country.”

Trump, though, doggedly stuck by his initial comments on Charlottesville, insisting that all sides in the confrontation were responsible for the violence, and singling out leftists for their attack on the last symbols of the Confederacy that still stand in the town. That position will leave the controversy front and center in the media, which will make Gorsky’s decision tough to weather.

The biopharma industry, including J&J, has been lobbying hard for tax reform, which would potentially allow the multinationals to repatriate billions in overseas accounts at a lower tax rate. And none of them have been happy about Trump’s eruptions on drug prices.

As for Trump, he’s also still tweeting about how angry the defections have made him.

Alex Gorsky with Donald Trump in the White House AP IMAGES

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Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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