Stakes High for CEOs on Eve of Trump Travel Ban Showdown

Tonight could be a nervy one for the up to 19 current or former CEOs due to meet with Donald Trump on Friday, with the president’s immigration ban potentially prompting a healthy, or maybe not so healthy, clash of opinions.

The Wall Street Journal reported the formal meeting schedule will include regulatory relief, women in the workforce, tax and trade and infrastructure. That’ll leave Trump’s decision to stop people from seven Muslim countries entering the U.S. as the elephant in the room, though it’s possible the issue could loosely apply to the topic of “trade”.

It’s an anxious wait for CEOs because they’ll be mindful of the damage that could be done to their businesses if they goad the president, who’s already singled out companies including Ford, Boeing and Lockheed Martin for attack.

“The formal meeting schedule will include regulatory relief, women in the workforce, tax and trade and infrastructure. That’ll leave Trump’s decision to stop people from seven Muslim countries entering the U.S. as the elephant in the room.

That hasn’t stopped some who’ll be attending Friday’s meeting—including Ford’s Mark Fields, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Uber’s Travis Kalanick—from publicly criticizing the executive order, which would no longer make it possible for their companies to attract and retain as much international talent.

The 19-member economic advisory panel is chaired by Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman and also includes JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, GM’s Mary Barra and Disney’s Bob Iger.

As has been customary at CEO meetings with Trump, the president is expected to start things off with a short address open to the media. That may be followed by a short statement from Schwarzman, reports suggest, followed by a closed-door forum at least an hour in length.

Big-name CEOs considering taking legal action over the ban, including Apple’s Tim Cook and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, aren’t on the advisory committee and won’t be in attendance.

Pressure is building among all CEOs to speak up against the ban as numerous activist groups voice their dissent. Among them were 14,800 college and university professors, including 50 Nobel laureates.

Separately, a band of human rights groups and responsible investors, some of them faith-backed, wrote a joint letter to the 19 members of the council urging them to speak out strongly.

“As key representatives of corporate America, the business leaders advising the president have a critical responsibility to respect human rights and reject the thinly veiled bigotry and xenophobia that the travel ban evokes, ” said Josh Zinner of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, which was one of the signatories.

But in a demonstration of the fine line attendees will have to tread—not just with the president, but also with the general public—a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday showed that 49% of American adults either strongly or somewhat agreed with the executive order. That compares with 41% who strongly or somewhat disagreed and 10% who were undecided.

Ross Kelly :Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.