Editor’s Note: Jeff Sonnenfeld, CEO of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute and longtime Chief Executive columnist, convened an off-the-record session with more than three dozen CEOs from some of America’s largest companies on Tuesday to discuss the move by 140 Republicans in the House and 12 Republicans in the Senate to overturn the results of the presidential election. He agreed to write about the meeting, and report the results of informal poling that took place—but only if he could abide by his promise that he would not name those who attended. The Wall Street Journal, among other media outlets, reported on those present.
A day before today’s ceremonial joint session of Congress met, I convened a meeting of dozens of top U.S. business leaders. As the Congress planned to meet to open envelopes to tally the court-proven, valid ballots of the Electoral College, a large group of GOP legislators threatened to overrule that voice of the nation’s voters.
The CEOs who gathered spontaneously across parties, industries and around the nation unanimously condemned those GOP deniers of democracy and threatened to withdraw funding their future campaigns. Ironically, these CEOs were justifiably proud over their roles in assuring the 2020 elections as the largest most efficient and secure in history with the encouragement of paid time off to vote and poll worker volunteer service.
Just four years earlier, January 6, 2017, I was invited to a private breakfast discussion over long-term economic development with then Vice President Joseph Biden. At 9 am, his aides rushed in to tell him that he was late for the President’s Daily Briefing—the critical CIA overnight update which he had attended religiously but which incoming President Elect Trump dismissed.
He looked up and said, “Well I hear the new team does not care about these briefings, so I’ll let it go and keeping talking with Jeff.”
Then, an hour later, his aides rushed to warn him it was time to head to the Capitol to preside over the joint session of Congress where both houses gather to officially count and certify the already-completed Electoral College vote.
He looked at me and jokingly said, “Say what if…?” We laughed and knew he would never fail to honor that sacred duty of vice presidents since 1796, fortified in 1804 by the 12th Amendment, and kept by everyone from John Adams and Richard Nixon to Dick Cheney to Al Gore.
Yesterday, the CEOs responded in near unison to the call to action of one CEO to the group: “It is important for you to speak up. This is the moment for you to lead.”
We polled the three-dozen CEOs, many from some of America’s biggest companies, about what was now happening in Washington. Below are the results. Many spoke in outrage over the threatened betrayal of the Constitution.
President Trump’s Behavior
The CEOs were strong agreement that President Trump is attempting to overturn the results of democratically run elections to stay in power. Many believe Trump is attempting a coup and that he broke federal and/or state election laws based on his pressuring of Georgia officials to change certified election results. However, most CEOs do not believe Trump should be impeached and most believe he will peacefully leave office.
|1. Is President Trump attempting to overturn democratically run elections to stay in office?
|2. Is President Trump attempting a coup after his 62 court challenges and 14 audits failed to reverse the election results?
|3. Did President Trump break federal and/or state election law pressuring Georgia officials to change vote tallies after certification?
|4. Should President Trump be impeached for his coercive effort to tamper with ballot counts after certification?
|5. Will President Trump leave office peacefully at this point?
Behavior of Republicans in Congress
CEOs were in strong agreement that many Republicans in Congress are violating the Constitution.
|6. Are 50% of GOP House members and 25% of GOP Senate members aiding and abetting sedition?
What Should CEOs Do?
The CEOs were in agreement that they need to speak out, refuse to provide financial support to politicians who are aiding and abetting what they felt was sedition, and carefully consider which states to invest in based on what was happening today.
|7. Should CEOs speak out more through collection statements?
|8. Should CEOs warn lobbyists privately that their firms will no longer support election result deniers in Congress?
|9. Would you reconsider investments in staffing and facilities in stateswhere public officials are impeding an orderly presidential succession?
In summarizing this sentiment, Tom Glocer, the lead director of Morgan Stanley and Merck as well as former CEO of Thomson Reuters, said:
“Many acting CEOs feel understandably constrained to take a bold position such as committing not to contribute to the Senate 12. They are wary of bringing partisan politics into the board room. However this is much more than a political issue. Respect for the rule of law underlies our market economy and supports important elements such as the reserve currency status of the dollar. Business leaders need to stand up on these issues because in the end they are business issues not just politics as usual.”