Policy U-Turns Suggest the President is Listening to CEOs

All of those meetings with business leaders appear to be rubbing off, perhaps moderating the administration's policy direction.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink at the New York Times DealBook Conference

Donald Trump’s almost constant engagement with CEOs since he took office hasn’t been a one-way street. Sure, he’s put the hard word on leaders to corral behind his campaign pledges to create more American jobs.

Now, signs are emerging that the businessman is listening, too. And that’s quelling fears that he’ll follow through on some of his more extreme populist policy suggestions.

This week, Trump rescinded on his earlier claim that China was a currency manipulator, while converting into a supporter of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The president also told CEOs to expect “pleasant surprises” on the North American Free Trade agreement, though what those will be remains a mystery.

“I do strongly believe he’s listening,” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink told dinner guests in Washington this week. Fink is among around 20 CEOs on Trump’s economic advisory council, which had another meeting on Tuesday.


“I don’t believe I’m wasting my time there,” Fink said. “Actually, I believe we’re being listened to and they’re taking some of our advice.”

Fink’s comments came as Politico reported that the chairman of the advisory council, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, has formed a particularly close relationship with the president. The two talk as much as twice a week, discussing everything from China to tax to immigration, the report said, citing White House and New York business officials.

Schwarzman told the publication that Trump is comfortable around business people and “learns best” by talking to people and observing things. “I think he looks forward to these things and he likes being with business people who have run businesses that are bigger than his,” he said.

Hopes that Trump is taking a more moderate stance were stoked by his decision last week to remove key advisor Steve Bannon from the National Security Council. In subsequent media interviews this week, Trump indicated that the former Breitbart news editor and powerful populist voice in his administration may be on the outer.

Schwarzman said the president is currently immersed in a “highly supportive environment” occupied by the likes of National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, both Goldman Sachs alumni.

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