President Trump met with top business leaders at the White House Friday on the heels of a positive monthly jobs reports, but also a still-simmering controversy surrounding his immigration executive order -- which has been criticized by some executives as harmful to their hiring practices.
The forum included CEOs from PepsiCo, SpaceX and General Motors, and was set up as part of an effort to give the private sector a greater voice in the new administration.
“We’re looking forward ... to discuss all the things that you think we can do to bring back our jobs, to get taxes even lower than we’re going to be cutting now … and to do what we have to do in terms of regulation,” Trump said at the start of the meeting.
“These are the biggest and best minds in the country and I really appreciate you being here,” he said, adding that he hopes the group can meet on a monthly basis.
Trump also cited the latest monthly jobs report, which found the economy added 227,000 net new jobs last month, beating Wall Street estimates. The jobless rate ticked up from 4.7 percent to 4.8 percent as more people joined the workforce. Trump said at the meeting there is a "great spirit in the country right now." Trump said he was looking forward to discussing the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation he intends to roll back.
Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who was chairing the group, said the forum had a “full agenda,” expected to cover economic strategy, women in the workforce, trade and infrastructure. Schwarzman also said that “some of the immigration things” would be discussed, but did not specify what he meant.
“It’s really important that we vocalize the non-governmental sector, and also importantly do it on a bipartisan basis – apparently a first in Washington,” he said.
In a sign of the simmering tensions, though, one participant was missing.
The forum had been set to include Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. However, Kalanick stepped down from the forum Thursday, saying his participation had been misinterpreted as support for the administration’s policies.
“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” Kalanick said in a memo to employees.
Kalanick had come out forcefully against Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from seven terror-prone countries last Friday. He said on Twitter that the order was “against everything Uber stands for,” and said it would affect thousands of drivers.
But a #DeleteUber push went viral on social media, after Uber stopped surge pricing near New York's JFK Airport as taxi cabs boycotted the airport to protest the order. Before he stepped down, Kalanick had said he would use his position on the council to try and change Trump’s mind.
Axios reported that a phone call between Trump and Kalanick did not go well. A Trump source told the outlet that the view of Trump’s inner circle was: “If you want to cut off your access to the White House, f--- you.”
Disney CEO Bob Igor also skipped the Friday meeting, according to The Hollywood Reporter. However, the reason given was a board meeting scheduled for months, not the controversy surrounding the executive order.
In a statement Thursday, the White House hailed the importance of an “open dialogue” with business leaders.
“As a businessman himself, President Trump understands the importance of an open dialogue with fellow business leaders to discuss how to best make our nation's economy stronger,” the White House said. “The President looks forward to tomorrow's meeting with executives from some of our country's most successful companies and continuing an open line of communication with the business community to ensure more opportunities for all Americans."
But Trump’s order has seen significant opposition from some in the business community, particularly traditionally liberal Silicon Valley companies. A group of Silicon Valley CEOs, including Uber, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, signed a draft letter earlier this week expressing concerns about the order.
“We are concerned…that your recent executive order will affect many visa holders who work hard here in the United States and contribute to our country’s success,” the letter said, according to a draft obtained by Recode. “In a global economy, it is critical that we continue to attract the best and brightest from around the world.”
Fox News’ Lesa Jansen contributed to this report.