Merck CEO Ken Frazier resigns from Trump council in protest, and the president swiftly bites back

Merck CEO Ken Frazier, the only African-American running a top global biopharma company, has very publicly broken with President Trump, resigning in protest from the administration’s manufacturing council in the wake of a growing controversy over the president’s unwillingness to single out white supremacy groups in the violent protests over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA.

This move by Frazier will put considerable pressure on the rest of the industry and its lobbyists to separate themselves from Trump — something they’ve been loath to do – and take a more critical position on Trump’s presidency as well as some of his policies.

It is also directed against a president who has proven to be notoriously thin-skinned about criticism of any kind. And Trump proved that by firing back right at Frazier one of the industry’s weak spots. He tweeted:

Frazier, though, was clearly fed up with the president today.

Taking to Trump’s favorite medium, Twitter, Merck quoted Frazier, saying:

I am resigning from the President’s American Manufacturing Council.

Our country’s strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs.

America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.

As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.

The controversy over the president’s statement citing “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville — which included the death of one of the protesters who turned out to oppose demonstrations by neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists — has been gaining volume steadily.

The move clearly didn’t hurt Merck’s stock. The pharma giant’s shares were up 1% in early trading today.

Frazier’s decision to stand down now comes as the biopharma industry has sought to lobby the White House for new rules allowing for the repatriation of billions of dollars in overseas accounts at a more attractive tax rate. Frazier had been a regular at the White House, along with other top corporate CEOs in the industry.

In biotech, though, execs throughout the smaller companies in the industry have voiced their opposition to a number of Trump’s initiatives, in particular singling out his stab at instituting new immigration policies targeting several Muslim-majority countries. And it wasn’t long before support for Frazier’s move began to pop up on Twitter.

Donald Trump and Ken Frazier during the announcement of a newly designed pharmaceutical glass bottle in the Roosevelt Room on July 20, 2017 SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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